The New York Jets avoided a devastating blow Saturday when second-year quarterback Zach Wilson’s MRI revealed he did not sustain a season-ending knee injury.
Wilson will have arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his right knee. He also has a bone bruise. An early timetable for his recovery might be at least a month, according to reports, which could have him missing the Jets' regular-season opener against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 11.
While the Jets have reason for an optimistic outlook before surgery, Wilson’s right knee has become a red flag for the franchise’s future.
This is the second time in less than a year Wilson – the Jets’ prized No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL draft – has sustained a right knee injury.
He suffered a PCL sprain that caused him to miss four games in the heart of his rookie season. And this meniscus tear could sideline him for the first month, if not more, this season.
Now, the Jets should take considerable measures to ensure Wilson’s recovery is gradual and sufficient with so much at stake.
Wilson’s career and the Jets’ extensive rebuild – both in their second year – have hit a significant speed bump before this season even started.
After a 4-13 record last year, and 11 straight seasons ending with no playoff berths, you could only imagine the feeling members of the Jets franchise must have felt when they saw Wilson’s right knee buckle after a run to the sideline during the first preseason game Friday night.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas showed visible concern watching from a suite. The thought of available quarterback options like San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo might have initially entered his mind before learning the extent of Wilson’s injury.
Jets coach Robert Saleh – less than a week after losing starting right tackle Mekhi Becton to right kneecap injury for the second straight season – was measured in his response to questions of Wilson’s knee after the game.
“I’m just going to let the MRI play out, and we’ll figure it out [Saturday],” Saleh said following the Jets’ 24-21 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Wilson did not tear his ACL or suffer another PCL injury.
And his meniscus, according to reports, has a slight tear, which could speed up his recovery.
All of that is encouraging, sure.
But Wilson’s right knee – which did not cause him to miss games in college at BYU – is now the biggest concern for the Jets franchise and the longevity of their current rebuild.
Season Two was supposed to offer the Jets a holistic view of their rebuilding effort with Wilson at quarterback, and fortify the foundation needed to contend with the Bills, Dolphins and Patriots in the AFC East.
The Jets defense, highlighted by veterans like linebackers C.J. Mosley and Kwon Alexander, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams and the No. 4 overall pick in this year's NFL draft, cornerback Sauce Gardner, gave Wilson some trouble in training camp last week.
Wilson worked to overcome some early lumps and build chemistry with new additions like receiver Garrett Wilson and running back Breece Hall, and returning playmakers like receivers Elijah Moore and Corey Davis.
“I really like the way he approaches every day,” Saleh said of Wilson last week. “He’s unflappable in terms of not losing confidence and getting down on himself after a bad play or a bad day. … Really like where his head is right now and really like where the entire offense is, especially in those move-the-ball periods. It seems like they’re executing at a high level.”
While the Jets moved quickly to sign five-time Pro Bowl tackle Daune Brown to shore up their offensive line after Becton’s injury, they may hold off on a potential Garoppolo deal or one for any other for a quarterback until Wilson has surgery.
Backup quarterback Mike White, who started in Wilson’s absence last season, will likely lead the offense for the rest of training camp and the preseason.
Super Bowl champion Joe Flacco, the former Ravens starter, is also an option entering his 15th NFL season at 37 years old.
The Jets should play White and Flacco for as long as they can – no matter how the start of this season unfolds – to ensure Wilson’s right knee not only returns to full strength, but can sustain the long-term weight of the franchise’s climb out of mediocrity.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Zach Wilson: Jets QB avoids major injury, but knee becomes red flag