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Jets GM Joe Douglas: Aaron Rodgers trade 'historic' for franchise, 'great thing' for Zach Wilson

Aaron Rodgers will soon become a New York Jet.

News of his trade from the Packers broke Monday, and although it's not yet official, it's a matter of finalizing details and signing paperwork. After nearly two decades in Green Bay, Rodgers is headed to New York, where he'll be expected to help the Jets win immediately.

Monday was a momentous occasion. Tuesday provided time for reflection.

"Obviously, a long time in the making," Jets general manager Joe Douglas said during his team's pre-draft press conference on Tuesday. "I will piggyback a little bit off of what (Packers GM) Brian (Gutekunst) said yesterday; there's still some I's to be dotted, T's to be crossed to ultimately finalize everything. But, again, it was a lot of conversations with Brian. A ton of respect for Brian -- I've known him for a little over 20 years -- and I can't thank him enough for the open dialogue that we've had and ultimately being able to get what we feel is a historic trade for this franchise."

Handshakes and champagne are in order for both the Packers and Jets, with one side receiving a quality haul for its legendary, but estranged quarterback, and the other welcoming a player it believes will put it on the fast track toward great success. The Rodgers trade proves the stark shift in how the Jets are perceived among their NFL counterparts, quickly morphing from also-rans to a legitimate threat worthy of Rodgers' consideration.

"Obviously, Aaron is one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play this game," Douglas said. "To have an opportunity to add a player of that caliber, you're always going to look into it and how it fits within our culture, within our team. It goes back to something I said to you guys in Phoenix; it's a real credit to (head coach) Robert (Saleh), his staff and what he's been able to implement with our players and with everyone here. That a player of Aaron's caliber would even want to come here. We're all excited to add someone of his character and his ability."

How it plays out -- and for how long -- remains to be determined.

Rodgers has toyed with retirement on what is now an annual basis, spending each of the last few offseasons waffling between walking away and coming back for another season, using his significant leverage to force the Packers to pay up and/or make roster additions to fit his demands. There's no telling at this point whether he might again engage in such a game in early 2024; much of that is likely dependent on how he and the Jets fare in their first season spent together.

On Tuesday, Douglas wisely avoided guaranteeing Rodgers' participation beyond 2023. But as Douglas acknowledged, Rodgers' arrival instantly raises expectations for a Jets club that was surprisingly successful in both the 2022 offseason and the first half of the regular season before injuries and inconsistency at quarterback doomed their chances.

That first half of 2022 convinced Douglas his young squad can handle the expectations that come with Rodgers' arrival.

"I feel like the way we jumped out last year, a lot of those young men proved that they were ready to answer the call," Douglas said. "Nobody's happy about the way we finished last year, so to see the group of guys that are out there right now working and gelling together, it's very apparent that they're not satisfied with the way the season ended last year, either."

Rodgers certainly isn't a sure thing, either. As Douglas reminded reporters, Rodgers isn't far removed from his consecutive NFL MVP-winning seasons. But Rodgers also wasn't exactly his best in 2022 while playing injured with an inexperienced roster whose struggles were frustrating at times.

Rodgers will have some familiarity with offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, but he'll have to adjust to a new setting, system and uniform. It won't be an overnight acclimation. Luckily for him and the Jets, it's April.

As for the Jets' plans beyond Rodgers, well, they're irrelevant at this point. 2022 proved to Jets leadership that the team can win now, provided it has an adequate quarterback. At his best, Rodgers has been much, much more than that. If he's even adequate, he's still a significant upgrade over former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson, a player some may expect Rodgers to mentor.

Based on how he handled the situation with Jordan Love -- now Rodgers' successor in Green Bay -- it wouldn't be wise to count on Rodgers helping Wilson turn around his career, even if Douglas remained optimistic on the topic.

"I feel like this is going to be a great thing for Zach," Douglas said. "Zach's ceiling is unlimited. No one works harder, no one loves ball more than Zach Wilson, and him having the opportunity to really shadow and be with a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback every day, every hour he's in the building, that's a great opportunity and a great experience."

The greatest (and most important) opportunity for the Jets will arrive as soon as Rodgers takes his first steps into their Florham Park, New Jersey, headquarters. The time is now -- and the rest can be sorted out later.

Rodgers is expected to speak at his first press conference as a Jet on Wednesday afternoon after the deal is made official.

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