Former BYU quarterback Zach Wilson has been traded

The New York Jets traded the former No. 2 overall pick to Denver on Monday, according to a source.

New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson meets with reporters after the team's NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. The Bills won 32-6. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes )

Three years ago, a contingent of New York Jets coaches, executives and scouts flew to Utah to watch Zach Wilson sling it all over the field at BYU’s pro day. The group included general manager Joe Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. They thought they found the future face of the Jets franchise and to some in the organization, the decision to pick him with the No. 2 pick felt like an easy one.

Fast forward three years, and the Jets had to pay another team to take Wilson off their hands. The Jets traded Wilson to the Denver Broncos ahead of the NFL Draft, sending Wilson and a seventh-round pick (No. 256) to the Broncos for a sixth-round pick (No. 203) on Monday, according to a league source.

It officially marks the end of a disastrous saga where Wilson statistically had one of the worst starts to a career of any highly-drafted quarterback, though the Jets organization made many mistakes along the way that cratered his development. That started with the decision to hand him the role of QB1 as a rookie without even the illusion of competition — and then not bringing in any real competition once Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles in Week 1 last season.

It was an active offseason for quarterback movement and the Jets didn’t receive much interest in Wilson, hence why it took this long to trade him — and why the return was so small. Earlier in the offseason, other Wilson draft classmates from 2021 changed teams, Justin Fields going to the Steelers for a conditional sixth-round pick and Mac Jones getting sent to the Jaguars for a sixth too. Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence is the only first-round quarterback from that draft class remaining with his original team.

Some of Wilson’s struggles were of his own making certainly, but the organization has received deserved criticism for poor planning and decision-making around him. They were given a reprieve when Douglas was able to acquire Rodgers last season, hopeful that Wilson could sit and watch one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks for a season. Instead, he was starting by Week 2 — and the Rodgers-Wilson relationship soured as the season progressed and Rodgers rehabbed his injury in California for a large part of the year.

In three seasons, Wilson accounted for 28 total touchdowns and 34 turnovers. He completed 57 percent of his passes and threw for 300-plus yards only three times in 34 games. He threw for 250 or more eight times, and 150 yards or fewer 11 times. He never threw three touchdown passes in a game, and only seven times threw two or more touchdowns. He threw zero touchdowns 18 times. He never threw 10 touchdown passes in a season. According to TruMedia, Wilson ranks 47th of 52 eligible quarterbacks in their first three seasons in the last 10 years in EPA per dropback.

It wasn’t all bad — and it wasn’t all his fault — but Wilson provided little evidence he would have been a quality starting quarterback even in a positive environment.

The first mistake came in that first year, when the Jets not only didn’t bring in veteran competition for Wilson in training camp — the other quarterbacks were an unproven Mike White and James Morgan — but Saleh pushed back on the idea that the Jets even needed one. When Wilson struggled to start his rookie year, the Jets eventually traded for Joe Flacco, but the damage was already done. The Jets have since admitted handing Wilson the starting job right away was a mistake.

As the calendar turned to 2022, LaFleur had already started to sour on Wilson and made his feelings clear throughout that offseason. Their relationship cratered that season as Wilson struggled to grasp the offense; he also didn’t respond well to LaFleur’s method of brutal honesty. LaFleur’s feelings only grew stronger when Flacco and White were more productive in his offense than Wilson. Wilson was benched once for White and again during a late-season game for practice squad quarterback Chris Streveler — a game with playoff implications. At that point, it felt like Wilson’s time with the Jets was over, especially as the Jets openly discussed the importance of finding Wilson’s replacement in the 2023 offseason.

When the Jets traded for Rodgers, the goal was to let Wilson sit and learn from Rodgers for a year or two to rebuild his confidence — and value. The Jets were not interested in devoting significant capital to three quarterbacks, so they rolled into the season with Wilson as the No. 2, hoping he wouldn’t have to play for a while, if at all.

Then, of course, Rodgers tore his Achilles in Week 1. The Jets won their season opener and Wilson showed what he could do at his best — running around, airing it out, making plays with his feet — in a close loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, but he never built on that performance.

Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett struggled to adjust the offense to Wilson’s skill set. As the Jets piled up losses featuring one of the league’s worst offenses, and one of the best defenses, Saleh opted to bench Wilson again ahead of a Week 12 game against the Dolphins. He replaced Wilson with Tim Boyle, who had thrown three touchdowns and eight interceptions in his career. Saleh, per multiple team sources, told Wilson he would be inactive the rest of the season and that the Jets would trade him in the offseason.

Then the Jets lost two straight games with Boyle — he threw one touchdown and four interceptions — and Saleh decided he wanted to go back to Wilson. The quarterback was initially reluctant to return to the lineup in light of his conversation with Saleh about his benching, but later told Saleh he was willing to play in the Week 14 game against Houston. Wilson proceeded to beat the playoff-bound Texans in the best game of his NFL career: 301 passing yards, 37 rushing yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers.

Wilson suffered a concussion against the Dolphins in Week 15, which ended his season — and, as it turns out, his Jets career.

A change of scenery was inevitable and necessary, for both team and player. Most head coaches and general managers wouldn’t have survived this level of failure with the No. 2 pick, but Saleh and Douglas will get one last shot to prove they can lead a team to the playoffs. They’ll do it with Rodgers — and signed a veteran in Tyrod Taylor to back him up — while Wilson will try to resurrect his career in Colorado.

Why did the Broncos make this move?

No team in the league was entering the draft with a less experienced QB room than the Broncos. After releasing Russell Wilson in March, the roster consisted of Jarrett Stidham (four career starts) and Ben DiNucci (one). Wilson, who was 12-21 as a starter during his three seasons in New York, doesn’t solve the conundrum at the position for Denver. But the former No. 2 overall pick has significant talent that coach Sean Payton and his staff will attempt to harness as Wilson benefits from a change of surroundings.

What this shouldn’t do is take the Broncos out of the running for a top quarterback prospect in the first round of the draft on Thursday. Payton and general manager George Paton said last week they are “wide open” in terms of exploring avenues to select a quarterback in the draft, noting there are “seven or eight” prospects at the position they believe can develop into NFL starters.

The presence of Wilson, who counts two victories against the Broncos among his dozen career wins, doesn’t materially change that stance. But it gives the Broncos a shot of talent in a quarterback room that needed an infusion of it in some form. Now, it’s up to the Broncos to see how much they can pull out of the 24-year-old’s talented right arm. — Nick Kosmider, Broncos beat writer

This article originally appeared in The Athletic.