Aaron Rodgers will quarterback the Jets in 2023 just like Jordan Love will be the signal-caller for the Packers this season. Barring anything catastrophic, these are events that will absolutely take place this fall.
When Rodgers becomes a Jet officially — one could argue he’s a Jet in spirit already — is a matter no one person can determine right now.
It could be today, or the weekend, or following a kumbaya session at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix later this month. Perhaps it stretches until the day of the NFL Draft, with the transaction from Green Bay dripping in spite. Or maybe it goes into the summer with what would be two stubborn franchises drenched in antipathy.
But here’s what I believe: what Rodgers had to say earlier this week on The Pat McAfee Show did not influence when or how this trade is executed any more than this column publishing Friday on CBSSports.com.
Rodgers intends to play for the Jets? Well, yeah. Was the one-team-only meeting between Rodgers and Jets brass at a private airport hanger the giveaway?
The Jets have had their sights set on Rodgers for months. Even Derek Carr had to know that when he dined with the team last month. Carr was the backup plan in case something went awry with Rodgers, and when free agency loomed and the Jets were unmoved to take a step at the most important position in all of North American sports, that was the biggest hint anyone needed that the team felt very confident they’d get their guy.
Meanwhile, the Packers have known for some time that they’d likely be moving on from Rodgers. Love will take over for Rodgers just as Rodgers took over for Favre, and team president Mark Murphy admitted as much days before Rodgers ever spoke to the streaming world.
“It’s a situation [letting Rodgers talk to the Jets] where I think we wanted to help Aaron achieve what he wanted, as well as the Packers,” Murphy said. “Hopefully it’ll create a situation where it’s a win for both sides. We’d love to have it resolved by the start of free agency.”
Murphy, in no uncertain terms, considered the matter of Rodgers to the Jets a fait accompli. He wanted it done before the start of free agency just like I did, though his reasons were likely for team-building purposes and not so that he can watch the NCAA men’s basketball tournament unfettered.
So before Rodgers spoke publicly, the Jets already wanted him and the Packers already didn’t. Seems like a bit more than half the battle right there.
The compensation was always going to be the issue. How much is a four-time NFL MVP on a massive contract worth to a needy team like the Jets? Should the Packers “do right” by a player who can say rightly and stoically that he’s debatably the greatest player in franchise history?
If you think the Jets are going to be impacted by pressure from the public or their fan base … buddy … listen to yourself. The Jets were born under pressure. Molded by it. I don’t think Boomer Esiason would consider a work day in June to have started until his producer has turned away a dozen callers wanting to explain why Joe Douglas should regret the linebacker he took in the fifth round.
The Packers shouldn’t be motivated by Rodgers’ attempt to embarrass them, either. Ever since the Love selection in 2020, Rodgers has made it a hobby to not-so-subtly poke at general manager Brian Gutekunst.
The contract rigmarole and frequent “will he or won’t he” wasn’t truly part of the Rodgers gambit until after that pick. He toyed with the team every chance he got: stealing the headlines at the 2021 NFL Draft, and then forcing a contract readjustment before the 2021 training camp that set up a Last Dance-like end to his Packers days, and then the three-year mega extension last year in free agency. And somewhere in between all of that he won consecutive NFL MVPs.
Rodgers has wanted to shove the Love pick in the face of the Packers’ brass from the moment they picked Love, and he’s done that — tastefully or not — to some degree of success. By talking about the halcyon days of Ted Thompson in direct comparison to Gutekunst (while not mentioning Gutey’s name), Rodgers twisted the knife. Everyone knew it because everyone has known it.
Sprinkled throughout his nearly hour-long interview were some hints on how Rodgers wants this narrative to take shape. He claimed to have gone into the darkness retreat believing 90/10 he would emerge and ultimately retire, walking away from nearly $60 million in guaranteed salary in 2023 while still being one of the best people in the world at his job. Of course, we’ll never be able to fact-check that.
But he also said that upon his re-entering the light, something changed. A Damascus-like moment, if you will. The talk was now — just now! and not at all before he went into that retreat — the Packers no longer wanted him. Now he had to go work out and determine whether he’d still retire. In a matter of weeks, Rodgers went from nearly retiring to intending to quarterback the New York Jets.
All the elite athletes seemingly have these moments that could charitably be called ahistorical. Take your pick of any of the half-dozen Michael Jordan told in “The Last Dance.” My personal sports favorite was Kobe Bryant saying the Hornets didn’t want him in 1996, and that’s why he was traded to the Lakers. Before Rodgers this week, the most-recent best one in sports was the Georgia Bulldogs saying many doubted they’d win the national championship.
I actually believe Rodgers believes what he said. And this will be his fuel in 2023. It may even be enough to keep him in New York for 2024, as the Packers are scheduled to host a still undetermined AFC East opponent at Lambeau that season.
Lord, I’ve seen what you’ve done for others…
Rodgers will quarterback the Jets this year no matter what else he says or doesn’t say. The two sides will come to an agreement because they must. What has been said won’t impact the trade compensation because that’d make Gutekunst and Douglas petulant, and men in their position can’t afford to be made to look petulant.
They’ll get it figured out, and then Rodgers will have plenty more to say.