FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — It’s the ultimate “get rich quick” scheme: A perennial loser, thinking it’s one player away from greatness (and feeling pressure to get there), junks its long-term plan for a one- or two-year shot at the Super Bowl.
These are the 2023 New York Jets, who desperately hope their acquisition of quarterback Aaron Rodgers allows them to be like Tom Brady and the 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: a successful marriage between a star-crossed franchise and an aging legend in search of another Super Bowl ring.
Considering all the key factors — a gaping hole at quarterback, a win-now defense and emerging stars on rookie contracts — the trade for the former Green Bay Packers star makes sense. Even at 39, one year removed from his fourth MVP season, he gives them a puncher’s chance in the stacked AFC. That hasn’t been the case in more than a decade. For a change, there’s real hope.
The Bucs, in similar circumstances, did it with Brady. After a 12-year playoff drought and a seven-win season (same as the Jets on both counts), they signed Brady, who, at 43, changed the losing culture, galvanized the organization and threw a lot of touchdowns to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl title in his first season. Unfortunately for the Jets, Rodgers wasn’t a free agent. The Packers traded Rodgers, their 2023 first round pick (No. 15) and a 2023 fifth-round pick (No. 170) to the Jets for New York’s 2023 first-round pick (No. 13), a 2023 second-round pick (No. 42), a 2023 sixth-round pick (No. 207) and a conditional 2024 second-ro0und pick that becomes a first if Rodgers plays 65% of the snaps this season, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Monday. The price isn’t outrageous for a first-ballot Hall of Famer and the cap hit ($15.8 million in 2023) is palatable.
So, yes, an iconic quarterback can leave his forever team, go to a new part of the country and turn losers into winners. Jets owner Woody Johnson can see it now: An ecstatic Rodgers, riding up Broadway in a ticker-tape parade, lobs the Lombardi Trophy to wide receiver Garrett Wilson in a nearby vehicle — a nod to Brady’s celebrated trophy toss in the Bucs’ riverboat victory parade.
That would be epic for a franchise that has gone 54 seasons without a Super Bowl appearance.
“If they win the Super Bowl, it’ll be worth it, but there’s a lot of risk,” said a longtime personnel executive who believes the Jets would’ve been better off signing the “safer” Derek Carr. “The Jets didn’t need to hit a home run. They have a juggernaut defense and some good skill talent. All they needed was a double.”
Presumably, Rodgers sees the Jets the way Brady saw the Bucs — an undervalued asset. The Bucs had pieces, intriguing pieces, and they added some parts that were attracted to Tampa because of Brady’s presence. Bucs coach Todd Bowles, the defensive coordinator at the time, recalled the intangible impact on the franchise.
“There’s a lot of buzz when you get someone like that in your building,” Bowles told ESPN. “They give you a lot of hope. You’re bringing in a lot of character, a proven winner who has done it. It excites the fan base and it makes everyone on the team up their game if they haven’t already. Nobody wants to let a guy like that down.”
Rodgers could have the same impact on the Jets, making them a free agent destination. He’s a big reason why former Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard decided to join the party. If they can solidify the offensive line with a signing and/or a draft pick, the way the Bucs did by drafting right tackle Tristan Wirfs in 2020, Rodgers will have a real chance to succeed.
He already has a strong relationship with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, his coordinator with the Packers from 2019 to 2021 — and that’s huge. Rodgers, speaking on “The Pat McAfee Show,” identified Hackett as the primary reason for choosing the Jets. They can skip the get-acquainted period and get right down to business. It also means Rodgers won’t have to learn an entirely new offense, which has to be a relief. Older players, often stuck in their ways, would rather not have to deal with the hassle of mastering a new playbook.
This was a problem for Brady, who struggled with the Bruce Arians system in Tampa before it was revamped late in the 2020 season — a turning point en route to the Super Bowl. Rodgers won’t have that aggravation. He has a coach he likes and a system he knows.
“[He’s a] Hall of Fame quarterback,” coach Robert Saleh said of Rodgers during the run-up to the Jets-Packers game last season. “He’s a special talent, obviously. He gets the ball where it needs to go. He gets it there quick. [He] can change the play at the line of scrimmage. He makes everyone around him better. He challenges you from a defensive standpoint to substitutions to everything. He’s deserving of everything he’s gotten in his life.”
This isn’t to suggest there aren’t concerns, some of the same questions that popped up in 2008 when the Jets acquired Brett Favre from the Packers — namely, age and commitment:
Will Rodgers’ body start to break down? Brady was an anomaly. Consider: Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers made it to 39 and got out. Eli Manning reached 38. Drew Brees lasted to 41, but missed nine games over his final two years. Father Time usually starts to assert himself around elite quarterbacks’ 40th birthday. Rodgers turns 40 on Dec. 2.
Is he willing to truly invest in the Jets? Rodgers said he was 90% retired before his darkness retreat in February. Now, suddenly, he’s all-in? Rodgers, who usually skips the voluntary portion of the offseason, has to change his ways to make this work. Instead of meditating and cleansing his body in clandestine retreats, he owes it to the team to be present. They need a leader who can unite and energize the locker room, which former starter Zach Wilson failed to do. One thing about Brady: His offseason preparation, for himself and the team, bordered on obsession.
Was Rodgers’ pedestrian 2022 performance (26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, no 300-yard passing games) an outlier or the start of a decline? “He did not look good last year — and you can’t call it an aberration when the guy is 39,” the personnel executive said. The Jets aren’t concerned because they believe Rodgers’ injured right thumb, now healed, was a big part of the problem.
If everything goes right — if Rodgers rebounds from last year, fully commits to the team and stays healthy — the Jets should be contenders. But the AFC is loaded with star quarterbacks, and he’d have to be vintage Rodgers to overtake the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow.
The Jets are willing to take that chance. They could’ve made a stronger play for the younger Carr, 31, who wound up signing a four-year, $150 million contract with the New Orleans Saints, but they were hell-bent on Rodgers. The organization has no confidence in Wilson, the former No. 2 overall pick. The draft offers some intriguing possibilities, but they probably will be out of reach for the Jets, who pick 13th.
By flubbing the Wilson pick, they were caught between a Rodgers and a hard place. They could’ve sat around, wishing for a Wilson miracle or throwing obscene money at Carr, a midlevel starter. Instead, the Jets are taking a chance for the ages. Their decision-makers will be lionized or fired. They need to get rich quick.
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