The New York Jets have finally -- FINALLY -- executed a trade so monumental that even the biggest icon in the history of the franchise -- Joe Namath -- has offered up his retired number for renewed wear by Aaron Rodgers. The wait for this trade was long, but not nearly as long as it has been since the Jets had this much realistic hope for success.
"Broadway Joe," of course, can't bequeath to Gang Green's new quarterback the one thing that Rodgers was brought to New York to deliver: a Lombardi Trophy. Since Namath's Super Bowl III triumph in 1969, the Jets have only rarely even gotten close. When they did most recently, making AFC Conference Championship Game appearances in the 2009 and 2010 seasons, it was thanks to a stellar defense. Now, after trying for more than half a century of free-agent signings, drafts and trades, the Jets finally again have what has never been more important in the NFL: a premier player at the most premium position. And here's what it cost them ...
- 2023 first-round pick (No. 13 overall)
- 2023 second-rounder (No. 42)
- 2023 sixth-rounder (No. 207)
- Conditional 2024 second-rounder that could become a first
- Aaron Rodgers
- 2023 first-round pick (No. 15 overall)
- 2023 fifth-rounder (No. 170)
For all of the similarities at play, this is not a Brett Favre redux. Rodgers is simply a better quarterback than Favre was when he left the Packers for the Jets in 2008 (making way for Rodgers to take over in Green Bay). Favre was also further removed from his most recent MVP season (1997, when he received the league's top individual award for a third straight year) at the time than Rodgers is now from his (2021, his second MVP in a row and fourth overall). And the quarterback Rodgers replaces in New York, Zach Wilson, is not going to lead a division rival to the AFC East title next season, as Chad Pennington did in 2008 with the Miami Dolphins after being replaced by Favre. Furthermore, thankfully, Rodgers seems unlikely to create a tawdry scandal during his time with the Jets, as Favre did.
This is the kind of blockbuster that, for better or worse, reshapes at least two teams, quite a few careers and perhaps a portion of the league's competitive balance. And it is indisputably a swing-for-the-fences move by both the Jets and Rodgers. With the 39-year-old quarterback nearing the end of a no-doubt Hall of Fame career, this is likely a brief shot, and anything less than a Super Bowl ring will be viewed as a failure for this union.
But there is a long way to go before we have to worry about that. Here is a first look at some of the winners and losers from the biggest transaction so far this offseason.
The Green Bay Packers: It was clear from general manager Brian Gutekunst's comments at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine that the Packers were ready to move on from Rodgers and are anxious to see Jordan Love start at quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers: It has been hard to miss Rodgers' discontent with the Packers' front office in the past few years, as well as what seemed like a general restlessness as he mulled whether he even wanted to continue playing after recent seasons. Now he lands on a Jets team with a coach he is close to (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, coming off a stint as Broncos head coach, served as Packers OC from 2019 through 2021), a top-five defense and a stable of young talent. Plus, he has been able to play a bit of GM of sorts, as the Jets signed one of his preferred receivers, Allen Lazard, and one of his favorite backups, Tim Boyle. Rodgers was so all in that he apparently tried to recruit Calais Campbell to join him in New York. And, in a delicious subtext, Rodgers could finish his career by one-upping Favre and winning the Super Bowl that Favre could not bring to this championship-starved organization. One big caveat: For Rodgers to capture a second Lombardi Trophy, he will have to go through a gauntlet of AFC quarterbacks that includes Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. The path to the promised land will be far more difficult than what Rodgers recently faced in the NFC.
Jordan Love: Thrust into a wildly uncomfortable situation when he was drafted 26th overall by the Packers in 2020, Love finally gets his chance after attempting just 83 passes over 10 appearances, including one start. The Packers clearly feel he is ready -- Gutekunst raved during the combine about what Green Bay has seen from Love in practice. With Rodgers out, the job is the 24-year-old's, and so is the pressure.
Jets fans: They have endured a lot of unsightly quarterback play, a lot of dashed hopes, a lot of crushing seasons. And in all those years, they have never -- ever -- witnessed a quarterback with this kind of talent. It still may not be enough to get past Allen or Burrow or Mahomes in the loaded AFC, but Jets fans finally get to see one of the most gifted field generals in league history in their midst.
Woody Johnson: The Jets' owner loves star quarterbacks (SEE: Favre, Tim Tebow, Michael Vick) and craves the relevance that they bring. You can question the wisdom of these home run-or-bust moves, but Rodgers gives Johnson's team a far more legitimate chance to contend than any of the others did.
Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas: The Jets' head coach and general manager might need to get to the playoffs in 2023 to keep their jobs, and Rodgers gives them a much better chance of doing that than almost any other option.
The Jets' defense: Wonder why cornerback (and Defensive Rookie of the Year) Sauce Gardner took to social media to help recruit Rodgers? Because with a 10-time Pro Bowler under center, Gang Green's D, which ranked fourth in both points and yards allowed last season, will no longer have to shoulder the entire burden of keeping New York competitive. It's hard to imagine the offense will rank 29th in scoring again in 2023.
The rest of the NFC: Last year might have been a down one for Rodgers, but he was still a dangerous opponent -- and in the upper tier of NFC signal-callers. The NFC doesn't have nearly the level of QB depth that the AFC does, and losing Rodgers weakens the conference further. That's great news for NFC teams with playoff aspirations.
The NFL: It's been a long time since one of the game's biggest stars played in New York, and this is the rare occasion when both teams in the league's biggest market are simultaneously relevant. Not to mention, the Jets and Giants actually play each other this season. For the schedule makers, this trade is a gift. Gang Green has a series of must-see opponents this season, among them the Chiefs, Chargers, Eagles and Cowboys.
The Green Bay Packers: Rodgers started for 15 seasons, winning four league MVPs ... and the Packers have just one Super Bowl title to show for that excellence. There is no shortage of blame to go around -- a portion is reserved for Rodgers -- but the organization bears some responsibility for not doing everything it could to give the quarterback the necessary teammates and coaches to take advantage of his best years.
Packers fans: Between Favre and Rodgers, Packer backers have enjoyed three decades of extraordinary quarterback play. Neither player minded drama, and the annual late-career will-he-or-won't-he musings could grow tiresome for a segment of the fan base. But those who were ready to move on should be careful what they wish for. Love may turn out to be just as good, but at least for now, Cheeseheads are thrust into the same netherworld of quarterback uncertainty that much of the league endures every year.
Zach Wilson: Yes, the Jets have professed their continued belief in how high Wilson's ceiling is, and yes, the 23-year-old can watch and learn from an all-time great. But for however long Rodgers is in town, it is hard to see how Wilson gets back on the field for the team that selected him second overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. If Wilson is to have a real pro career, he may have to start over elsewhere.
The rest of the AFC East: With even marginal quarterback play last season, the Jets would have snagged a wild-card playoff spot. Now they have a top-tier signal-caller added to a core of young talent that includes both Rookies of the Year from 2022. Those divisional games with Allen's Bills, Tua Tagovailoa's Dolphins and Mac Jones' Patriots are about to get a lot more interesting.