This is an exciting day for many New York Jets fans, and it isn't difficult to understand why. The team reached a deal to trade for a future Hall of Fame quarterback, as the Green Bay Packers are sending Aaron Rodgers to the Meadowlands.
If everything falls into place next year, the Jets could be a very exciting team. This fanbase hasn’t seen a winning record since 2015. It hasn’t seen the Playoffs since 2010. It hasn’t seen the Super Bowl since 1968. A vintage Aaron Rodgers season creates the potential for magic in a way almost no other attainable quarterback could provide. If his relative struggles in 2022 were primarily about playing through an injury to his hand, and he still has top-tier football left, the Jets could be in for a special season with a bit of luck.
If you are a Jets fan reading this, you deserve to be excited. You have watched a lot of terrible football for a long time. Enjoy this moment. Don’t let anybody else’s opinion rob you of your job.
I am assuming if you are reading this article, though, you are probably interested in my take over how likely that boom scenario is.
I have followed the Jets in-depth for a very long time. Much has changed through the years, but the Johnson brothers have been in charge the entire time.
With any ownership group, you start to notice certain patterns that play themselves out over and over.
Three come to mind in the time Woody and Chris Johnson have been in charge of the Jets.
- The Jets frequently chase splashy moves to land big names, even when the cost makes it ill-advised.
- The Jets frequently believe there is a magical quick fix that can be substituted for sound, long-term team building.
- The Jets frequently overestimate how close they are to the promised land by reading too much into limited stretches of winning football.
I wish it wasn’t like this, but I can’t shake the feeling that I am watching all three at once with the trade for Aaron Rodgers.
There’s no need to explain how the move fits the first category. Rodgers has been one of the biggest names in the sport over the last decade and a half.
For the second category, one only needs to look at the lack of other activity this offseason. The biggest addition outside of Rodgers is Allen Lazard, a receiver with one career season in the top 85 in the league in yardage. It’s almost like the Jets think adding Rodgers to a 7-10 team fixes everything. This is a team that enters the NFL Draft with significant holes on both lines and major question marks in other key areas. Perhaps the team can strike gold in the Draft and find immediate contributors for the second straight year, but the Jets have only one pick in the top 40 this time compared with the four they had a year ago.
In the third category, I think about an October winning streak a year ago. The Jets started the 2022 season 5-2 in their first seven games. After a month of alternating wins and losses, they entered the final month of the season with a 7-4 record and very much in reach of ending the league’s longest playoff drought. The team finished 7-10 in no small part because of the league’s worst quarterback play. Having quality quarterback play a year ago almost certainly would have meant a spot in the playoffs. Of course the Jets don’t get a do over. They aren’t starting the 2023 season with a 5-2 record. They probably won’t get another string of four backup quarterbacks in their first seven games. It will be a different schedule. It’s far harder to make the playoffs from 0-0 than it is from 5-2.
And it’s difficult for me to say playoffs would be enough to vindicate this trade for Rodgers. Yes, I know the Jets haven’t been there in over a decade. I’m aware the Jets could be better than at any point in their immediate history.
Any team’s goal in the NFL is ultimately to win a championship. I don’t think the fact the Jets have had Mike Tannenbaum, John Idzik, and Mike Maccagnan as their recent general managers should change that. I don’t think a team’s past dooms it to a future of low expectations.
The New Orleans Saints had one playoff win in franchise history before Sean Payton became their coach and Drew Brees their quarterback. The New England Patriots were long-time laughingstocks before Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. Decades earlier the Pittsburgh Steelers were before Chuck Noll became their coach. I’m sure there was a point in time where a postseason berth here and there seemed to their fanbases like the most they could hope for, but it wasn’t true. Make the right moves, and any team can be a long-term contender no matter its past.
Going back to expectations for a second, I think there are a number of factors in any trade that determine those expectations.
If the Jets had gotten the Packers to retain half of Rodgers’ salary and parted with a third-round pick, I don't think they would be quite as high. You could justify Rodgers as a short-term stabilizer at quarterback for a young team and give you that puncher’s chance at a special season.
The price the Jets actually paid for Rodgers is extremely high. We still don’t know the contract specifics so those can wait for another day. The draft pick compensation going to Green Bay is quite expensive, however.
In the last five years, this is the list of players traded for at least a first-round pick AND a day two pick: Khalil Mack, Frank Clark, Laremy Tunsil, Jamal Adams, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Davante Adams, Jamal Adams, Deshaun Watson, and Tyreek Hill.
Some of these deals worked out better than others. Almost all were star-level players who were expected to be with their team for a long time.
We can't say for sure whether Rodgers will be with the Jets more than one season, but we must acknowledge there is a strong possibility he will be one and done. He did after all say just a few weeks ago that he was 90% leaning towards retirement earlier in the offseason. At the very least there are no guarantees he will be around much longer.
The most valuable asset an NFL team has is its first-round draft pick. This is the best opportunity each team has to add a long-term impact player who will play at a reduced cost for four years. Of course there are no guarantees. Plenty of teams miss on their selection. But it is a chance to add the next Sauce Gardner or Garrett Wilson, a long-term building block.
Unless Rodgers misses more than one-third of next season (which would be catastrophic itself), the Jets will be parting with this asset. They will also be losing their second-round pick this year, their second-most valuable asset. All this potentially for one year of Aaron Rodgers.
If you are going to pass up something so valuable for one year, that one year had better be great.
I remember when I was a kid, the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup. It was their first championship in 54 years, which was viewed as a historic drought. The Jets now have a longer championship drought.
In this sense, I don’t think you can say the Rodgers trade is a success when he throws a touchdown pass, or the Jets register a win. It won’t be a winning streak or ending that playoff drought. I don’t even think it’s a playoff win that could justify it.
The Jets are parting with assets that could help them tremendously in the future for a short-term gain. That gain needs to be special. We can argue that maybe a spot in the Super Bowl would be enough. If Rodgers get the Jets to the AFC Championship Game and isn’t the reason they lose, you can make a case.
But to me the only reason you pay such a hefty price to rent a player is to try and win it all.
It’s not difficult to see a path. One player on the trade list above probably stuck out above all others; Matthew Stafford. Two years ago the Rams traded for him to try and win the championship within a year. It worked out.
It is conceivable that a version of Rodgers motivated to prove the Packers wrong could turn back the clock and lift the Jets to contender status. Nobody is questioning whether this trade would be worth it if the Jets win it all.
Tthis is easier said than done. The Jets have an intriguing core of young talent, but it isn’t on the level of the roster those Rams had. The Rams were a consistent playoff team and had already been to a Super Bowl by the time they landed Stafford. The Jets were a 7-10 team with some pretty glaring holes. They are giving up premium future assets to try and make it all happen now.
In the best of times, trying to microwave a contender isn’t easy. It isn’t enough to have elite talent. You also need some luck along the way. An injury, a bounce of the ball, an unfortunate scheduling twist, a bad call, and more things beyond your control can derail a promising season. Heck, without thinking for more than five seconds I could tell you a dropped interception by Jaquiski Tartt would have changed the Rams’ outcome.
Look, nobody will be cheering harder for the Jets than me this fall. You don’t need to tell me that you want to see some exciting football. I’ve written and podcasted daily about this team through this entire miserable decade plus. I’ll enjoy the good times.
I see plausible a path to success and this trade ultimately being worth it.
I also see the premium the Jets paid for this path and how difficult it will be to successfully navigate. And I worry I might be watching the same old habits reemerge that have held this franchise back over and over.