Jets have gone from wanting Aaron Rodgers to needing him

Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers / Jeff Hanisch - USA TODAY Sports

This was always the risk. The Jets knew it. To them, though, it was worth it. You can’t play scared in a high-stakes game of Rodgers Roulette.

This offseason’s worst-kept secret is the Jets’ infatuation with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The problem is that, while out of the darkness, Rodgers’ future remains cloudy. He has yet to tell anyone what he wants to do — retire, remain in Green Bay, or venture elsewhere.

The quarterback-needy Jets have refused to enact a contingency plan until they know there’s no chance of landing Option A. On Monday, that cost them Option B. Derek Carr, the player the Jets wanted if they couldn’t land Rodgers, agreed to sign with the New Orleans Saints.

The Jets’ intoxication with Rodgers has thus made this their sobering reality: They went from wanting him, to needing him.

Don’t let any green-and-white sales pitch make you believe the remaining alternatives are anything but mediocre at best.

Let’s get this disclaimer out of the way now: All must operate under the assumption Lamar Jackson isn’t actually available and the Baltimore Ravens are truthful when saying they have no intentions of trading him. The former MVP’s status in Baltimore is testy at the moment as the two continue to fight over the specifics of a long-term deal — yes. But until Baltimore actually begins to entertain offers, the only thing potentially-interested teams can do is monitor.

And that, right now, is exactly what Jets general manager Joe Douglas is doing. He cannot allow himself to go further down that rabbit hole until there are actual signs Jackson might be dealt. Pivoting from Rodgers to Jackson would be better for the Jets, but it’s nothing more than a dreamy hypothetical right now.

So, snap back to reality.

It’s remarkable how quickly the outlook on the Jets’ quarterback situation changed in 12 hours. The world was this team’s oyster when Douglas rested his head on his pillow Sunday night. The Jets were still waiting on Rodgers (with no clear timetable on his decision in sight), but had Carr as a top-tier contingency plan. Basically, all they needed was for Rodgers to say yes or no, and if it was an anti-Jets decision, they’d go and get a player they believed they could win with in Carr.

Dec 18, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after a touchdown against the New England Patriots in the first half at Allegiant Stadium.
Dec 18, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after a touchdown against the New England Patriots in the first half at Allegiant Stadium. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It sure seemed like Carr was locked into that plan, too. He visited with the Jets twice — both going extremely well. He loved their coaching staff, roster, and culture. He even met with Woody Johnson. The Jets sold him on all they could accomplish together. Everyone knew they truly wanted Rodgers, but that didn’t mean they didn’t want Carr.

The Jets believed this pursuit could work as long as they found out about Rodgers soon. Carr wanted to sign before the start of the legal tampering period (March 15) so he could help recruit others to his new team. That timeline should have synced up well with Rodgers’ decision, which most believed would come after his darkness retreat.

But, after leaving that tiny room, the only announcement Rodgers made was that he had no announcement to make. The Jets ended the week they felt they’d know what would happen at quarterback instead not having any idea what would happen at quarterback.

You can only be a bridesmaid for so long. The Saints, unlike the Jets, made it clear to Carr that he was their top target. They offered him a contract that worked. Carr agreed to sign.

And there is absolutely no problem with that if Rodgers — presently in an offseason-long ghosting of Packers brass — picks up the phone and asks them to send him to New York. The Jets would have the player they’ve wanted all along. But if Rodgers instead chooses to retire? Or maybe he wants to keep playing, but finish his career in Green Bay, as many within their organization believe will ultimately happen?

The Jets might find themselves stuck between a rock and a place with no quarterback.

After Rodgers, and with Carr headed to New Orleans, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo becomes the next-best available passer. Jets head coach Robert Saleh has ties to him as they overlapped with the 49ers. The problem: Reports surfaced from the NFL Combine that the Las Vegas Raiders also wanted Garoppolo. It’s hard to imagine a relationship with his former defensive coordinator would lead to Garoppolo choosing Florham Park over Las Vegas.

Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo / Kelley L Cox - USA TODAY Sports

Of course, Garoppolo isn’t the only potential quarterback available. There’s also Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill. The Jets are higher on him than some care to believe. But Titans general manager Ran Carthon, also at the NFL Combine, said Tannehill
"will be a Titan” next year and is "excited about moving forward with him."

So if the Jets miss on Rodgers, the Raiders sign Garoppolo, and the Titans keep Tannehill, Douglas might be forced to pick from a grouping of Carson Wentz (Washington Commanders), Marcus Mariota (Atlanta Falcons), Baker Mayfield (Los Angeles Rams) and Jacoby Brissett (Cleveland Browns).

You can’t fault the Jets for pursuing Rodgers. They have legitimate playmakers on offense (Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, Elijah Moore), a championship-ready defense, and the resources to fix up the offensive line while bolstering other positions around their quarterback. Put Rodgers on that team and the Jets aren’t fighting for the playoffs — they’re a legitimate Super Bowl favorite.

You just worry if the Jets were so seduced by those thoughts that they strayed too far from shore and are now stuck in the open water without a way back. They could have, through their connections to Packers' brass (Saleh is awful close with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur) and Rodgers himself (offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett), provided their own deadline. Basically, if Rodgers hadn’t made up his mind by the beginning of the Combine last week, then the Jets needed to move on to Plan B. Yes, they want Rodgers, but they can’t wait forever.

Instead, they didn’t do that. They kept waiting … and waiting … and are still waiting.

There’s no denying the Jets are better off with Rodgers than any other option (assuming Jackson remains in Baltimore) available. But now they’re forced to face a potential situation where not only do they not get Rodgers, but because they waited so long, they missed out on the next-best thing in Carr.

Again: This is all a moot point if Rodgers decides he wants to play for the Jets. The feeling down in Indianapolis was that’s what was eventually going to happen. As crazy as it sounds, this is true: The Jets do give him the best chance to win. It’s not much different than when Tom Brady left New England for Tampa Bay.

When it comes to the Jets, though, things have a funny way of not working out how they’re supposed to.

You hope that’s not the case.

You get the feeling it might just be.