For a brief moment on Thursday, Aaron Rodgers and the Jets showed everyone what rejuvenation looks like.
After some rough early series during the Jets’ first day of training camp scrimmage, Rodgers threw the ball to second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson on a quick out route. Wilson pulled the pass, fumbled briefly, then accelerated to the sidelines for a healthy advantage, prompting cheers from his energetic teammates.
It was the type of offensive dynamism the Jets had been missing for years as the team struggled to find long-term answers at quarterback, the game’s most important position. The addition of Brett Favre in 2008 did not lead to a playoff appearance, and his subsequent early-round draft selections brought mixed results.
But the arrival of four-time Most Valuable Player Rodgers has raised expectations this season — and an unfamiliar level of excitement around the team whose name has been synonymous with ineptitude for more than a decade.
“There’s a lot of positivity around here, which I think is a good thing,” Rodgers said after practice.
After a lengthy negotiation, the Jets agreed to acquire Rodgers in a trade with the Green Bay Packers on April 24, adding to a level of pageantry that backfired on the team. The league scheduled the Jets in five prime time matchups this season, well above an appearance in 2022, including a Week 1 contest against the Buffalo Bills on “Monday Night Football”. Camera crews from the HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks” will follow the team throughout the season, and the Jets will headline the NFL’s first Black Friday game on Amazon.
The focus is a far cry from what was expected before last season. The Jets got off to a surprising 6–3 start behind a highly ranked defense before shaky quarterback play derailed the New Zealanders’ hopes. Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall choice in 2021, was benched in favor of backup quarterback Mike White, and the team went 1–7 to end the season.
By adding Rodgers, the Jets sought to accelerate organizational rebuilding. The team has cultivated young talent, including reigning Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year Garrett Wilson and cornerback Saus Gardner.
Rodgers said, “When you have so many great players on rookie deals, it’s pretty exciting to know that you can do something, you have a good window.” “It’s not just a one-year thing where you can be competitive, which is fun.”
As players reported to camp on Wednesday, some talked about reaching the Super Bowl, a lofty goal for a franchise that last made the postseason in 2010.
“Bringing a guy like that into the building usually gets everybody excited because the resume he has, the character he is, the guy he is, he brings a spark to everybody,” said defensive tackle Quinnan Williams, who said he’s already asked Rodgers questions about the best defensive players he’s ever faced.
But even with Rodgers’ arrival, there’s reason to deserve any optimism.
Rodgers, who will turn 40 in December, is against the clock to age in football: Few quarterbacks — other than Tom Brady — have excelled at that stage of their careers. And after winning back-to-back MVP awards in 2020 and 2021, Rodgers had the worst season of his career as a full-time starter, posting his second-highest interception total and his lowest quarterback rating since 2008.
Rodgers brings much more to the Jets than just a Hall of Fame resume. He was criticized for condemning the league’s COVID-19 vaccination policy after testing positive for the coronavirus in 2021. Despite claiming before the season that he was “immunized” against the virus, Rodgers was fined for violating league COVID-19 protocols for non-vaccinated players by attending a Halloween party.
The end of Rodgers’ tenure in Green Bay was marred by his disputes with coaches and team management over roster and play-calling decisions, as well as public criticism of the Packers’ young receivers.
He said, so far he is happy with his new team.
“A lot of fun things have happened in my life at this point in time and I’m enjoying every minute of it,” he said on Thursday.
On their part, the Jets have tried to build a team in Rodgers’ image. They have Garrett Wilson, the kind of explosive young wide receiver that Rodgers complained about missing in Green Bay. They brought in some of Rodgers’ friends and former Packers teammates, such as receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard and offensive lineman Billy Turner, and they hired Nathaniel Hackett, Rodgers’ offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021, in the same role.
Lazard, who played five seasons with Rodgers in Green Bay and signed with the Jets in March, thinks he can help some of the team’s younger receivers, acknowledging that “Aaron Rodgers’ offense” may present a learning curve.
Lazard said of Rodgers, “When he’s on the field, the whole playbook is open at any given moment.” “Even during the first day of practice, he can pull a signal, something we’ve never talked about.”
It certainly won’t be what the Jets have been accustomed to.