For all intents and purposes, the 2023 season is over for the New York Jets. They’re 11th out of 12 teams in the AFC’s wild-card bracket, woefully undermanned nearly everywhere on offense, and are facing three straight games against teams that are vying for a playoff berth.
At this stage, it would take an act of divine intervention for the Jets to avoid another defeat — which would give them eight losses on the season and effectively knock them out of any realistic playoff shot. And in that scenario, Aaron Rodgers admitted Thursday that it would be unlikely the franchise decision makers would clear him for a return to the field with no postseason to play for.
“I don’t think that would make a ton of sense,” Rodgers told reporters. "... A comeback this year before the four-month mark would mean I’m not 100% healthy, so it’d be a risk for myself. For the team to sign off on [it] if we’re out of it, I’d be surprised if they would OK that to come back.”
That didn’t stop Rodgers from declaring “anything is possible,” but also had him tempering hopes with an admission that he’s not close to being ready to play in a game. Of course, that doesn’t mean his presence isn’t a much-needed positive for the Jets, given that it effectively kicks off the 2024 season, setting the table for a hyper-focused eight-month stretch into next July’s training camp.
But for Jets general manager Joe Douglas, instead of using that time as he did last offseason chasing down a trade for Rodgers, he now has to figure out how to fix the considerable offensive issues surrounding his soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback.
Starting with …
Adding pieces to the offensive line in free agency and the draft
Starting tackles Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton, and center Connor McGovern should all be let go in free agency, leaving two holes at the bookends that will require the lion’s share of attention with this unit. Depending on how high their first-round draft pick falls, the Jets could stay put and use it on one of the two marquee tackles — Notre Dame’s Joe Alt or Penn State’s Olumuyiwa Fashanu — or they could entertain trading back in a draft that could see as many as eight offensive tackles selected in the first round. Trading back would allow the Jets to potentially net a second-round pick, which they currently lack after dealing it to the Green Bay Packers in the Rodgers trade. And this draft is deep enough along the offensive line that Douglas could then use that second-round pick on another o-line asset. This group needs it.
Of course, this could change depending on how free agency unfolds, though this offseason’s class of tackles is a bit weak. That said, even an average starting tackle signed in free agency would be helpful for the Jets.
Cutting Zach Wilson and finding a reliable veteran backup for Rodgers
Unfortunately for the Jets, they can’t open up a bunch of cash by cutting Wilson in the offseason. But they can remove any chance that they’d once again make the mistake of talking themselves into trusting him as a backup.
If Wilson is off the roster, there’s no temptation to again think that he has turned some kind of corner and can be counted upon. Instead, the Jets would be wise to wash their hands of him and hunt for a veteran backup with some starting experience under his belt, like the Indianapolis Colts did when they added Gardner Minshew.
However they decide to tweak it, it’s imperative that Douglas moves on from Wilson this offseason, lest he invite another disaster if Rodgers again goes down.
Wrenching on multiple aspects of the wide receivers room
It’s time to let Randall Cobb slide into retirement, despite being good friends with Rodgers. He’s a free agent whose age and total lack of productivity can’t be carried for another season. No matter how much it upsets Rodgers.
Next, the Jets need to reboot Allen Lazard in whatever way is possible. His slide has been mystifying without Rodgers, to the point that his drops and poor play have relegated him to a healthy scratch this season. Surely Rodgers returning and spending time with Lazard this offseason can help. The Jets have to make it work, with no sensible contract window to release Lazard until after the 2024 season.
Finally, Douglas should make the call to the Raiders and whoever their next general manager is to inquire about Davante Adams. Neither Rodgers nor Adams have been the same version of themselves since splitting up prior to the 2022 season. And both surely recognize that. It might not be the easiest acquisition — especially given that it will take draft compensation and some salary-cap space — but this is a must move if the Jets are serious about making 2024 their all-in, last-ditch effort with Rodgers.
Get offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett back to basics
Rodgers has endorsed the return of the Jets’ leadership structure, and that’s going to include Douglas, head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Of that trio, the one who needs to take a breath and go back to basics is Hackett.
Without Rodgers, Hackett has been largely muted as a play-caller, with an offense that often looks flat, unimaginative and lacking balance. To be fair, his offensive line has been awful and the quarterback play is in the same sinking boat. It’s hard to mount much of anything in a scheme when that happens.
Hackett has been honest about knowing something is wrong with his handling of the offense, saying he has pressed too much at times and tried to be too experimental at times. That’s a somewhat odd take on the season, given that it hasn’t looked like the Jets have tried much at all outside the box, nor have they been very aggressive downfield. Whatever the case, it’s clear Hackett feels out of sorts without Rodgers. It will be better for everyone if he goes back to page one of what has worked with Rodgers in the past and build things out from there.
These moves aren’t guaranteed to resolve everything, of course. The offense has been little more than a floating garbage patch without Rodgers in the middle of it, and it should be pointed out that we still don’t know what it would resemble with him in it. But at least there has been some clarity on what definitely isn’t working, whether Rodgers is around or not. That list of problems needs to be addressed. Now that Rodgers is back on the practice field, the work can begin.
The 2023 season is over for the Jets. And preparations for the 2024 campaign are all that matter moving into December.