Former NFL quarterback Alex Smith spoke in defense of New York Jets prospect Zach Wilson for the second time on May 12 during a guest appearance with Bruce Murray on SiriusXM NFL Radio’s “The SiriusXM Blitz.”
“Yeah, Robert Saleh, you’re a great defensive mind and coordinator, but, like, you have no idea how to develop a quarterback,” Smith noted while discussing Wilson’s struggles during the show. “The coordinator you hired [Mike LaFleur in 2021] never called plays. So that’s a completely different animal. And as much as you think you’re prepared to handle that development of a young kid, you’re just not.”
“There is a different mentality, from my career, when you play for an offensive head coach that wants to light up the scoreboard and outscore the opponent,” Smith went on later. “There’s a different mentality you have, especially as a young quarterback versus a defensive head coach, when really the [coach’s] mentality is — ‘Hey, don’t screw up, don’t turn the ball over, don’t put us in a bad situation.’ … That’s a huge difference in a mentality and a mindset for a young quarterback, especially if it’s a bit rocky to start.”
Smith, a former three-time Pro Bowler and No. 1 overall draft pick, knows what it’s like to enter the league with the same pressure that Wilson most likely felt as the No. 2 overall pick in NYC. He also began his career with a defensive-minded head coach (Mike Nolan) before finding success with offensive coaches Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid.
Alex Smith Was Critical of Robert Saleh for Midseason QB Swaps in 2022-23
Earlier in the year in January, Smith was critical of Saleh for his QB management during the Monday Night Football pregame show on ESPN — wavering between Wilson and Mike White throughout the 2022 campaign.
“Zach Wilson was always a high ceiling, a bit of a project in the sense that he came out early [and] was incredibly young, and for me, as much as we want to compliment Coach Saleh and what he’s done with this team — the kind of quick turnaround in two years — he deserves just as much criticism for what he’s done in his quarterback room,” Smith argued at the time.
Continuing: “The QB musical chairs weekly, like — ‘You’re the starter this week, you’re the backup, you’re not dressing, no, you start this week, you’re not dressing.’ The lack of consistency, the lack of a plan that has been in place to develop Zach Wilson [is concerning].”
“And then to hear him say that the draft doesn’t matter,” Smith ranted on, “to me that’s spoken like somebody who hasn’t been drafted No. 2 overall. There is a reality to [being] drafted to the New York market — and this is a fanbase and an organization that is incredibly unique — and to be the No. 2 overall pick and the expectations that come with that to turn around an organization, and then to not have a plan to support this kid to go do that.”
Another former NFL quarterback and high draft selection, Robert Griffin III, did interject at the end of Smith’s point, clarifying that he was saying Saleh has “mismanaged” the Jets quarterback room, to which the Smith replied “yes.” BYU writer Aaron Bagley shared the two video clips of this discussion above.
Jets GM Joe Douglas Admits Mistakes in Developing Zach Wilson
During a PFTPM interview with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, Jets general manager Joe Douglas admitted to handling Wilson’s development the wrong way.
“I go back and I look at a lot of things and things that can be done differently, things that were in our control, out of our control,” Douglas told Florio. “And every situation’s different. I feel like in today’s NFL, when you take a quarterback in the first round, and you take a quarterback high, time’s against you. And you need to see what you have so you can make a decision in that four-year window, three-year window.”
Then the admission came. “I think going back, it would have been great to have a veteran quarterback like a Joe Flacco that first season,” Douglas noted. “But ultimately, we made the decision to jump in headfirst with our youth movement.”
“We had so many first- and second-year players, new staff,” the Jets GM explained. “Let’s go in and attack this thing with youth. We know there’s going to be some growing pains, but we’re all going to grow together. I think we saw some of the benefits of that last year. But sometimes you don’t take into account the ramifications of playing a young quarterback early in his career.”
He concluded that “I think if I had to do everything over again, I would have probably had that veteran presence in the room early for Zach.”
It remains to be seen if Wilson can still turn around his Jets career learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Nathaniel Hackett in 2023, and potentially, 2024.