Jets trade quarterback Zach Wilson to the Broncos, AP source says

Zach Wilson was expected to be the face of the franchise for the New York Jets. Instead, he became a symbol of disappointment.

And now, the 2021 second overall draft pick will get the chance to rejuvenate his career with the Denver Broncos.

The Jets traded Wilson to the Broncos on Monday, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The Jets are sending Wilson and a seventh-round pick in this week’s NFL draft to the Broncos for a sixth-rounder, the person said.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the teams haven’t announced the deal. NFL Network first reported the trade.

The Jets are parting ways with Wilson after three disappointing seasons. ESPN reported New York and Denver are splitting Wilson’s $5.5 million salary for this season as part of the deal.

Wilson came to the Jets with massive expectations after he was selected out of BYU because of his exceptional athletic ability and knack for making throws on the run from various arm angles. But he struggled mightily in his first two seasons in New York before the Jets acquired Aaron Rodgers to be their starter last offseason.

When Rodgers went down for the season with a torn left Achilles tendon four snaps into his debut, Wilson took over as the starter again — and was unable to play with consistency or effectiveness while showing few signs of improvement from his first two years.

After being benched twice in his second season, Wilson was again sent to the sideline after 10 games. He sat out for two games while Tim Boyle was ineffective in two starts. The Jets turned back to Wilson, who found himself in the headlines when The Athletic reported he was reluctant to step back into his role as the starter because of potential injury concerns. Wilson denied that later in the week and said he was excited to start again.

He returned with perhaps the best performance of his career, going 27 of 36 for 301 yards — his third career game of 300 or more yards — and two touchdowns in New York’s 30-6 victory over Houston. Wilson was named the AFC offensive player of the week, but suffered a concussion the following week in the first half of the Jets’ 30-0 loss at Miami on Dec. 17.

And he didn’t play again.

“I thought he had a great OTAs, a great training camp,” coach Robert Saleh said late in the season. “I thought he battled. He fought. He’s a fighter, he really is. Obviously there’s things that he wishes he could have back and I know there’s a lot of things he improved on. Some things were out of his control.

“I’ve said it and I’ll say it again: I think he’s going to have a long career in this league.”

It won’t be with the Jets, though.

Rodgers is back this season, and the Jets signed veteran Tyrod Taylor last month to be his primary backup. The original plan last year was for Wilson to sit behind Rodgers and learn, and then perhaps take over again. But Rodgers’ injury changed all that.

“It’s just an unfortunate series of events that occurred,” Saleh said.

General manager Joe Douglas told reporters during the NFL combine in Indianapolis in February that the Jets had given Wilson and his agents permission to seek a trade. Douglas reiterated that last Friday, calling Wilson an “asset” while also saying New York was open to trading him.

And now, Wilson will look to restart his career in Denver.

He joins a quarterback room that also includes Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci after Russell Wilson was released last month after two seasons with the Broncos and signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Denver currently holds the 12th overall pick and could still be in the market for a quarterback.

The Broncos have a lot of other needs, however, and if they don't select a quarterback, it will be Wilson and Stidham in a training camp tussle to see who gets the job. Stidham is a fifth-year pro who has a 1-3 record as a starter. He went 1-1 after the Broncos benched Russell Wilson for the final two games last season. DiNucci lost his only NFL start back in 2020 with Dallas.

Stidham was the 13th quarterback to start for Denver since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season. The Broncos haven't been back to the playoffs since and have posted seven consecutive losing seasons, including last year's 8-9 under first-year coach Sean Payton.

The Broncos, who are on the hook for $37.79 million of Russell Wilson's $39 million salary in 2024 — which is in addition to $85 million in dead cap charges over the next two seasons — are unlikely to pick up the $22.4 million fifth-year option on Zach Wilson's rookie contract, meaning he will likely be a free agent next offseason.

Wilson went 12-21 in 33 games as a starter, throwing for 6,293 yards and 23 touchdowns with 25 interceptions. He has a 57% career completion percentage and 73.2 passer rating, ranking among the NFL’s worst in both categories in all three of his seasons. Wilson also has five touchdown runs.

The move is reminiscent of how the Jets moved on from Sam Darnold in 2021, trading him to Carolina just a few weeks before New York drafted Wilson. Darnold was the third overall pick out of Southern California in 2018, but — like Wilson — failed to live up to the lofty expectations.


AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver contributed to this report.