Zach Wilson’s Contract Could Become a Disaster for the New York Jets

There aren’t many things more exciting for an NFL fan than when your team drafts a QB at the top of the draft. The future seems bright, and you can dream of a Super Bowl (or multiple Super Bowls!) down the line. That optimism can fade quickly, though, if your quarterback refuses to sign his rookie deal, as is the case in 2021 with the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson.

Wilson knows precisely what his contract will look like in terms of money and years, yet he is now the only New York Jets player that hasn’t reported to camp. This could spell disaster for the upcoming Jets season.

Zach Wilson is one of only two first-round picks not to sign their contracts yet

Thanks to the collective bargaining agreement, NFL rookies know almost exactly what they’ll make in their first contracts. For example, as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Wilson will make $35.1 million over four years with a $22.9 million signing bonus.

With this level of precedent and specificity, draft picks rarely hold out these days. In 2021, only two players from the first round haven’t signed yet. These players are Wilson and the No. 3 overall pick, San Francisco QB Trey Lance.  

Los Angeles Chargers’ first-round pick tackle Rashawn Slater (No. 13 overall) was on this list, but he inked his deal on the first day of Chargers camp.

So, if the disagreements between Wilson’s agents and the Jets aren’t about the length or size of the contract, what’s the holdup? It’s all about how and when he’ll get paid.

Wilson is holding out over contract language and cash flow

The two issues that Wilson’s team and the Jets are fighting over “include (but aren’t limited to) cash flow and offset language,” per Pro Football Talk.

An offset means that if the Jets cut Wilson before the four years are over, the team could get some of the money back if Wilson signed with another team. Offset language is in almost all rookie deals, so there is probably a compromise that Wilson and the Jets can work out.

The other issue might now be so easy. PFT’s Mike Florio explains the cash flow holdup:

The Jets want to defer millions in signing bonus money earned by Wilson when he executes the contract to 2022. The recent precedent for players taken in the top two include all signing bonus money paid promptly. (Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the last two No. 1 overall picks, got theirs within 15 days of signing. The last two second overall picks, 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa and Washington defensive end Chase Young, received their signing bonus within 30 days of signing.)

Mike Florio on Zach Wilson and the New York Jets

In addition to the recent top pick’s precedent, the Jets also have paid promptly in the past. Sam Darnold, who the Jets drafted No. 3 in 2018, got his full bonus in his first year. The team’s argument is that the 2018 deal was under a different GM and current boss Joe Douglas is establishing a new precedent.

A long-term holdout from the No. 2 pick would be disastrous for the Jets 

Zach Wilson of the New York Jets runs drills during New York Jets Mandatory Minicamp on June 15, 2021 at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park, New Jersey. The Zach Wilson contract issue could become a disaster for the Jets.
Zach Wilson | Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Douglas and the Jets’ front office have a duty to do what’s best for the organization from both a financial and football standpoint. The problem is, Wilson has much more leverage than the organization does at this point.

Unlike Lance, who will likely sit behind Jimmy Garoppolo, Wilson is the de facto starting quarterback from day one. The Jets did not sign a competent veteran backup as insurance against Wilson struggling, getting injured, or holding out. Instead, New York opted to go with James Morgan and Mike White as backups. The pair has thrown zero NFL regular-season passes between them.

As August approaches, the Jets have few options to remedy Wilson missing significant training camp time. A trade with the Chicago Bears for Nick Foles or signing the recently-cut Blake Bortles are options, but certainly not good ones.  

The Jets went all-in on Wilson and held him up as the savior of the franchise. Now they are refusing to pay him the right way. This may be shocking to some on the outside, but it is all too unsurprising for long-suffering Jets fans.

If the Jets don’t resolve the Zach Wilson contract situation in the first week of camp, chances are the former BYU Cougar and the team will suffer some long-term consequences that could bleed into or even go through the entire season.

If this happens, there is only one word to describe how the Jets are handling Wilson and his contract: Disaster.

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