Owner vows Jets to keep QB Wilson if no trade

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The New York Jets remain motivated to trade former starting quarterback Zach Wilson, team officials said Monday, but the long-anticipated breakup took an interesting twist when owner Woody Johnson introduced another potential outcome.

“If we don’t trade him, we’re going to keep him,” Johnson told a small group of reporters at the NFL’s league meeting.

Johnson, who last month criticized Wilson’s 2023 performance, walked back those comments, perhaps in a Hail Mary attempt to stimulate interest in the former first-round pick. He called Wilson “a valuable asset.” In his next breath, he acknowledged that a trade would be best for Wilson, who struggled after replacing the injured Aaron Rodgers in Week 1.

“I feel badly about Zach in some ways because last year it would’ve been a great — it would’ve been the first time he could just sit back and watch a master at work, and he’s never had that,” Johnson said. “He’s been in the fire from Day 1, and I think that’s what he needs. He needs to be in a place where he can observe for a while. He’s got the skill. He can do everything. There’s a reason we drafted him No. 2 overall, and I have confidence that he’ll get there at some point.”

The Jets, looking to upgrade the backup position, signed Tyrod Taylor, 34, to a two-year, $12 million contract. Coach Robert Saleh called Taylor “an elite locker room presence.” They will add a third quarterback at some point, perhaps a rookie. Or maybe Wilson could be that guy, according to Johnson.

“It’s possible that he could do it here,” said Johnson, quickly adding, “From his standpoint, it’s probably better if he changes faces and he gets to a new [team]. He can wipe the slate clean in that way. I think that would probably be better for him.”

Wilson, with one year remaining on his rookie contract, is due to make a guaranteed $5.5 million in salary and bonuses. Ideally, the Jets would love to trade the contract and clear the $5.5 million from their salary cap, but it’s highly unlikely that a team would absorb that much money for a quarterback with a 12-21 record and more interceptions (25) than touchdown passes (23). The Jets will have to eat a chunk of the money to facilitate a trade, league sources said.

If they release him, the Jets still have to pay him the $5.5 million and they get no cap relief. The charge would remain $11.2 million.

On Feb. 28, general manager Joe Douglas announced that Wilson had been granted permission to speak to other teams about a possible trade. From all indications, Wilson — benched for two games last season — wants to move on.

Johnson might have damaged Wilson’s trade value Feb. 9 when he told reporters at the NFL Honors in Las Vegas, “We need a backup quarterback. We didn’t have one last year.” On Monday, he backtracked, suggesting it was unfair to single out one player on an offense that had so many issues.

Two members of Wilson’s 2021 draft class have been traded this offseason, most notably Justin Fields and Mac Jones. But the Jets can’t find any takers for Wilson.

Douglas said Monday that there have been “some discussions” with teams, but “nothing is close” to being done. He declined to speculate on whether he envisioned a scenario where Wilson could remain with the team for the 2024 season. The Jets could play it out until the draft, hoping to find a trade partner.

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