After all the fawning and gushing over Zach Wilson that you heard from the Jets as minicamp ended on Thursday, you might have expected Joe Namath to pick him up in a limo and take him directly to Canton.
It is a rite of spring and summer, of course, especially before a single game is played — a franchise rallying around its new franchise quarterback because he, more than anyone, represents a new hope for a better tomorrow.
Because Wilson was the second-overall pick, right behind Trevor Lawrence, he will bask in the sunshine of a passionate honeymoon — at least until his first interception, or until he is overheard on a hot mic saying he sees ghosts.
Bill Parcells used to remind everyone that you don’t truly find out about your quarterback until he is battered and bloodied and gets off the canvas and never stops being the battlefield commander.
But you only get one chance to make a first impression, and Zach Wilson has made such a boffo first impression that no one, not GM Joe Douglas, not head coach Robert Saleh, not long-suffering Jets fans, should worry about the kid getting thrown to the wolves, or the Panthers, in the Sept. 12 opener in Charlotte, N.C.
And here’s why:
It isn’t merely the eye-opening arm talent that seduced the Jets decision-makers, although of course without it, Wilson wouldn’t be the new franchise quarterback.
JaMarcus Russell had eye-opening arm talent, too. As did Jeff George. As did Browning Nagle.
Douglas, through his due diligence, fell head over heels for Wilson for his head and his heart in addition to his arm. There has never been a great quarterback who lacked intangibles. And Wilson oozes intangibles.
The kid clearly has a passion for the game, and he appears born to play quarterback. New York doesn’t scares him in the least. To him, it’s just a place to play football and relentlessly hone his craft. He is comfortable in his own skin. You saw him laughing along with beer-chugging guard Dan Feeney cheering for the Islanders at the Barn. Sam Darnold was one of the guys during his three years as a Jet. Wilson is one of the guys now. You wouldn’t want your quarterback not to be.
If your quarterback isn’t a gym rat, you have the wrong quarterback. Wilson is a film junkie. The game is his obsession. He will know the playbook inside and out. And in his words: process in chaos.
Now, he doesn’t have the same team around him that Ken O’Brien or Chad Pennington or Mark Sanchez did, but he will have more playmakers and protectors than Darnold did.
And do not underestimate what it will mean for him to have offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur by his side and in his ear. LaFleur will keep things simple enough so Wilson can play as freely as possible. They will be one mind in two bodies. It is the kind of benefit that Darnold was supposed to have with Adam Gase.
Wilson’s playmaking instincts might actually compel some to recall the Robert F. Kennedy quote: “Some men see things as they are and ask, ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and ask, ‘Why not?’ ” There will undoubtedly be occasions when his fearless athletic arrogance will get him in trouble. There will be other occasions when the improvisational timing of his footwork and gunslinging accuracy might move Patrick Mahomes to send out a congratulatory tweet.
Here’s a benefit to starting the clock immediately on the Wilson Era: He can get a leg up in experience on fellow No. 1 draft Mac Jones if Bill Belichick goes with Cam Newton early in New England. Tua Tagovailoa started nine games as a rookie in Miami last season. Josh Allen is the GOAT of the AFC East, and the sooner Wilson can close the gap on him, the better for the Jets.
And then there’s this: When it all begins for real, the pressure won’t be on Wilson as much as it will be on Darnold, at home against the organization that discarded him. Then again, from every early indication, Wilson embraces pressure, wants the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
It’s too early to check the critical physical and mental toughness boxes, and in the meantime, look for the Jets to explore the Nick Foles backup quarterback option for veteran insurance behind Wilson.
Something Wilson said Wednesday about precocious rookie wide reciever Elijah Moore spoke volumes about his own mindset and his own drive.
“He’s someone I want to be around because he wants to be great,” Wilson said.
They’re all saying the same exact thing about him.
In Zach Jets Trust.