Jets’ Zach Wilson having time to heal more important than Week 1 return

Once upon a time there was a Jets quarterback who wore white shoes and fur coats and a Fu Manchu who won the franchise’s lone Super Bowl championship before his knees sabotaged too much of the rest of his career.

Zach Wilson was summoned 16 months ago amid hysterical fanfare to star in a new regime’s version of “Top Gun: Maverick” as the swaggerlicious Jet pilot who would take flight to green-and-white skies and land on Cloud 9.

But now, for the second time, even before the start of his second season, he has been betrayed by his right knee.

And now, for the second time, his career has been delayed on the tarmac.

When Wilson’s arthroscopic knee surgery in Los Angeles was completed and deemed a success on Tuesday, Robert Saleh planned on speaking with the organization’s chosen one.

And this is what he should tell Zach Wilson:

“There is absolutely no need for you to feel pressure to get back for the regular-season opener. You are the future, and we need you right for most of 2022 and beyond more than we will need you right for Sept. 11 against the Ravens.

“Take your sweet time. Joe Flacco can hold the fort in the meantime.”

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) leads his team onto the field before a preseason game against the Eagles, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Philadelphia.

Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) leads his team onto the field before a preseason game against the Eagles.

AP

The moral of the story is Wilson will be facing an unexpected moment of truth whenever he trots back into his Jets huddle.

Eli Manning deserves to be a Hall of Fame quarterback in no small part because his greatest ability was his availability.

Wilson has not proven he can honor the mandate of the franchise quarterback.

So once again, Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur find themselves forced to soothe the savage competitive beast inside Wilson with the wit and wisdom of Yogi Berra: You can observe a lot by just watching.

By just watching Mike White last Halloween.

By just watching Flacco now.

Whenever Wilson is deemed ready to return, he will be standing on the precipice of Injury Prone Hill, the worst place for a young franchise quarterback, on whose shoulders so much is riding, can possibly hope to find himself.

He cannot afford to be sidelined for a third time and run the risk of the Jets and Jets fans beginning to question whether he can be the long-lost answer to their prayers.

So Saleh needs to protect a young and ambitious Wilson from himself. A wily veteran like Flacco would have taken the profit and run out of bounds in the preseason opener against the Eagles. Wilson made a fateful cut for extra yardage to atone for an interception on his first series.

The Jets are committed to Wilson because of his titillating upside … but upside morphs quickly into downside once you cannot stay on the field.

Bill Parcells early in the 1998 season gave up on a young gunslinger named Glenn Foley in favor of an almost-35-year-old Vinny Testaverde, and all Testaverde did was take the Jets to the AFC Championship game. Foley, of course, was not the second-overall pick of the draft, merely a red comet in the sky over an ineffective Neil O’Donnell. Ryan Fitzpatrick replaced Geno Smith, but no teammate has sucker punched Wilson and left him with a fractured jaw.

Of course the Jets remain committed to Wilson, and of course a 37-year-old Flacco cannot give you the wow plays that Wilson can … but listen to Saleh when I asked him about the comfort Flacco gives to his teammates in the huddle:

“He’s a veteran, he understands football, he’s got a calm to him in the huddle, he’s got great demeanor, he’s got great presence. It’s all-encompassing for him, he’s been there, done that, so he just kind of eases the huddle.”

Flacco excelled in the chaotic red zone on Tuesday. “That’s where veteran experience comes in,” Saleh said.

With Wilson possibly needing as many as three more weeks to rehab and recover, it is not inconceivable that the grizzled old pro who uses his head more than his heart and feels no burden to be the Boy Wonder would give the Jets the better chance to win the season opener at MetLife.

“Having Joe in there doesn’t limit anything that we can do with Zach,” Saleh said.

Hurry up and wait, Kid.

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