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Jets QB Zach Wilson spending offseason in odd limbo while team pursues Aaron Rodgers

Business was good at one of the cookie shops Zach Wilson owns in New York early on a recent weekend morning. A half dozen employees rolled balls of chocolate dough, the pop music was loud, the customers walked out with piles of the stylized pink boxes.

Only the most arch observer would note that Wilson had invested in a store whose name conjures delicious baked goods, but something a little less desirable about his other line of work.

Wilson's football future is nowhere near the sure thing that cookie sales are and that has put Wilson into an odd limbo this offseason -- still a part of the New York Jets, but also in the uncomfortable position of witnessing how very much they'd like to never have to use him again.

Late last week, Jets general manager Joe Douglas, who used the second overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Wilson, was on stage with former Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason. In front of a live audience, Esiason asked if Aaron Rodgers is coming to New York.

"He's gonna be here," Douglas responded, a reassurance that was greeted by cheers of relief from the audience.

Such a reaction, repeated over and over by teammates and fans, in interviews and on social media this spring, has to sting. Wilson, after all, is less than two years removed from being hailed as the savior himself. His has been a shockingly swift crumble.

Wilson's situation is extremely unusual. Teams simply don't give up on quarterbacks who are drafted second overall, have big arms and good health, after just 22 starts and 625 pass attempts. The Jets insist they are not giving up on Wilson either -- head coach Robert Saleh said at the NFL's annual meeting two weeks ago that Wilson would be the No. 2 quarterback this season. Then again, quarterbacks drafted as high as Wilson rarely both perform so poorly and seemingly lose the support of the locker room as rapidly as Wilson did in 2022.

To watch on social media as core Jets players celebrate the team's courtship of Rodgers this offseason -- Sauce Gardner's cheesehead burning felt like a ritual sacrifice made to the NFL gods -- has been to gain an understanding of how desperately even Wilson's own teammates are aching for excellence and competence while very publicly turning away from Wilson's meltdown.

To be fair, Rodgers would be an upgrade over all but a very few people currently walking the earth, so the Jets' lust for him is a reflection of the franchise's desperation for relevance and a Super Bowl run as much as it is a repudiation of Wilson. That the Jets are in a position to need the four-time MVP as starkly as they do is Wilson's problem, though, an indictment of his play and failure to develop as well as of the decision-makers, Saleh and Douglas among them, who turned over the Jets to him.

Nobody knows how Wilson is processing all of this right now. The offseason program doesn't begin for another week and Wilson has not been among the Jets who have been working out at the team facility in the meantime. Wilson has all but disappeared from public view, and that is probably for the best. At the end of last season, Saleh suggested he completely disconnect from football -- go read a book, he advised. Wilson's in-season benching, which was cut short when Mike White's rib injury forced Wilson back onto the field, was not enough of a reset for Wilson. Something more profound is needed and the smartest course now may be the one he is on, away from the pressure and scrutiny that attended last season.

Still, there is no clean solution for Wilson or the Jets. Right now, it is hard to imagine, though not impossible, that the Jets ever turn back to Wilson as the starter, even if Rodgers retires after the 2023 season. But if Wilson is to some day resurrect his career elsewhere, where he could compete for a starting job with a clean slate, he has the chance to start his reboot under somewhat desirable conditions.

That scenario involves Wilson sitting behind Rodgers for the entirety of 2023 -- and in the same quarterback room as Rodgers' former backup Tim Boyle -- and learning from his idol without having to worry about preparing for a game every week. Rodgers may be approaching 40, but he's missed just one start since 2017. It's a fairly safe bet that Wilson won't see extended playing time beyond the preseason in 2023.

Wilson has talked in the past about modeling his game after Rodgers and Wilson has undeniable physical ability. Jets brass repeatedly talk about his high ceiling. Wilson still has two seasons left on his rookie deal -- and the Jets have the option for a fifth season -- and the reality is that Rodgers may have come and gone from the Jets by then.

That will put the Jets right back where they are now, in desperate need of a quarterback. Wilson could be in desperate need of a job. Here or elsewhere, Wilson will get another chance to at least compete for a starting job -- there are simply too few quarterbacks and too many teams in need. For a reminder of the careers washed out Jets quarterbacks can have, look to Seattle, where Geno Smith is the starter and just won Comeback Player of the Year.

Smith was actually punched in the jaw while he was the Jets quarterback. Wilson may only feel that way right now.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter.

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