It takes a lot to admit a draft mistake. Sometimes, a team has no choice.
There are plenty of stats or moments that contributed to the New York Jets making a big move for Aaron Rodgers, essentially throwing in the towel on former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson. But let's start with a Week 16 home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. It was on a Thursday night with the NFL world watching. Jets fans started booing on the fourth offensive play of the game, and the boos got louder until the team mercifully benched Wilson. The Jets lost 19-3. You couldn't help but wonder how good the Jets might be with decent quarterback play. What made that loss worse was the Jaguars were starting to ascend with Trevor Lawrence, who would have been the Jets' pick if they didn't get two meaningless wins at the end of the 2020 season.
It was clear that night the Jets needed to make a move. Wilson didn't take another snap the rest of the season. If the Jets have their way, he won't take one this season either, unless it's at the end of a blowout win. Jets players might have revolted before enduring another season of Wilson being the worst starting QB in football.
Rodgers is the kind of splashy, big move that can make Jets fans forget about the Wilson mistake and get them thinking about a deep playoff run. The Jets haven't made the playoffs since the 2010 season, the longest drought in the NFL. But forget about just making the playoffs.
The Jets can aim bigger now.
"I'm an old guy, so I want to be part of a team that can win it all," Rodgers said, via the Jets' site. "And I believe this is a place we can get that done."
The Jets put themselves in position to dream big with the right quarterback. They've built a talented, young roster. The defense was one of the NFL's best last season. Coach Robert Saleh had a rough start with the Jets, but he looks like the right hire after a step forward last season. The Jets had a remarkable 2022 draft. Cornerback Sauce Gardner won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Receiver Garrett Wilson won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and if Breece Hall hadn't torn his ACL during the season, Hall probably would have won it.
"It wouldn't have been any competing, it would've been a runaway with Breece winning it," Garrett Wilson said, via the Jets' site. "It's special. We feel like our best days are ahead of us as an organization, as young guys. We're trying to change the culture. Awards are cool and all, but we want to start winning games. We're going to start winning games here soon."
There's risk with Rodgers. If he was still in his prime, winning MVPs and not entering his age-40 season, the Green Bay Packers wouldn't have traded him. Rodgers was good last season but he missed some throws we're not used to seeing him miss. He didn't look like a superhero after a career of stunning athletic plays and production. It's possible last season was the first sign of Rodgers' fade, and the Jets will be left holding the bag. Most quarterbacks hit the wall before they turn 40. Tom Brady was the exception, not the new rule.
The risks didn't really matter though. The Jets had to make a move at quarterback and there was no bigger move than getting the four-time MVP. The Jets have a good, young core and they couldn't waste another season hoping Zach Wilson figured it out. It was time to push in some chips on a worthwhile bet.
How good might the Jets be with decent quarterback play? We're about to get the answer.
It's not as easy as giving the Jets a great grade just because they got Aaron Rodgers. They gave up a lot to get a quarterback who turns 40 in December. The Jets gave the Packers second- and sixth-round picks this year, a conditional second-rounder next year and also moved back from No. 13 to No. 15 in this year's draft, a move that might have cost them offensive tackle Broderick Jones (though the team would never admit to that). The Jets also got a fifth-round pick back with Rodgers. It was a lot to give. The Jets also spent big on receiver Allen Lazard from Green Bay, signing him to a four-year, $44 million deal, and also added longtime Packers receiver Randall Cobb and hired Rodgers' buddy, Nathaniel Hackett, as their new offensive coordinator even though Rodgers totally never had a wish list (wink, wink). The Jets traded receiver Elijah Moore to the Cleveland Browns, which might have been necessary after Moore went public with his unhappiness last season. The Jets did lose defensive linemen Nathan Shepherd and Sheldon Rankins in free agency. The draft didn't get great grades, but first-round pick Will McDonald IV, a pass rusher, and second-round pick Joe Tippmann, a center, should each have big roles right away. If Rodgers rebounds to his 2020 and 2021 form, then this is an A+ offseason, but right now enthusiasm needs to be tempered at least a little bit.
Even if Aaron Rodgers is a top-10 quarterback this season, the Jets know Rodgers is a short-term solution. If they could get three good seasons out of him, that's a win (Rodgers seems prepared for multiple Jets seasons, for what it's worth). The question becomes: Is there any way to salvage Zach Wilson? Wilson will be the backup, which is a little scary. Wilson has a career 70.9 rating. If Rodgers goes down, the Jets' playoff hopes might be dust. The physical talent that made Wilson the second overall pick of the 2021 draft hasn't translated at all. If there's a perfect ending to this story, it's probably Wilson sitting behind Rodgers, without any of the pressure of being a franchise savior, and learning how to become an NFL quarterback. Then maybe Wilson can be ready by the time the Jets need to replace Rodgers.
"Of course, I wish things had gone differently the past two years and I would've played amazing," Wilson said, via NFL.com. "But I truly believe everything happens for a reason. Aaron knows this, but he's someone I've looked up to since I can remember playing football. So, I'm very appreciative of him and how much he is willing to help me because he really doesn't need to be that vocal. He honestly truly is an amazing friend, and obviously such an amazing quarterback, so I am learning a lot of football."
BetMGM odds breakdown
I was getting some Jets futures early in the offseason, and while some of that value is gone, I still like the Jets for this season. I'll take them +250 to win the division, over 9.5 wins at -125 odds and +1600 to win the Super Bowl. There's a chance the Aaron Rodgers experiment might not work out, but if it hits it might hit really big.
Yahoo's fantasy take
From Yahoo's Scott Pianowski: "Perhaps you came to this section looking for a Garrett Wilson endorsement, and I’ll provide it. All arrows are pointed up (especially with the quarterback change), and he’s likely headed for the moon. Please, get Wilson as a second-round pick, when it makes sense.
"But that’s all somewhat obvious. I’d like to offer a second, more subtle fantasy point about this year’s Jets team.
"The New York defense is overloaded with playmakers, so it’s not surprising to see it slotted as the No. 2 defense off the board in Yahoo drafts. But given the difficulty of its early-season schedule, this is not a DST I can proactively chase.
"The Jets early schedule is a meat grinder: Bills, Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs, Broncos (in Denver), Eagles. Four of those opponents are among the primary Super Bowl favorites (and haven’t appeared in this series yet). And then the Jets take their bye in Week 7. The most favorable matchups for the Jets defense don’t come until December.
"I prefer to play fantasy football with a microscope, not a telescope. Let’s focus on what’s in front of us, try to get off to a quick start, grab some leverage. We’ll deal with November and December later. The current ADP on the Jets defense is a sucker bet."
Stat to remember
The Jets' improvement on defense was startling. In 2021, the Jets' defense was awful. The Jets finished last in the NFL in yards and points allowed, and gave up 175 points in a four-game stretch. That was the second-most in a four-game stretch since the 1970 merger. Then in 2022 the Jets were suddenly excellent on defense. They finished fourth in yards and points allowed. A 28-spot improvement in ranking is astonishing. Adding cornerback Sauce Gardner, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, was a big factor. An overhauled secondary, better pass rush and a career year from defensive tackle Quinnen Williams were huge. The problem is excellence on defense is hard to count on from year to year. Regression is a real possibility, and perhaps it hits hard. The Jets' defensive personnel is exciting, but beware of assuming that top-five finish repeats itself.
Will Breece Hall be ready and effective?
Hall was great as a rookie last season before he tore his ACL. He suffered the injury Oct. 23, early enough to make a Week 1 return a realistic possibility. Hall believes he'll be ready.
"I'm doing pretty good right now," Hall told NFL Network in mid-July. "Like I've been saying, I'll be ready for the first game. Right now, I'm just focused on getting my knee as strong as possible, just getting that confidence back, but it's been going well so far."
Oftentimes the worst source for injury news is the player himself, because he can be overly optimistic about his healing powers. The Jets reportedly were in hot pursuit of free-agent running back Jamaal Williams and interested in first-round running back Jahmyr Gibbs but couldn't land either. Now, former Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is a target and visited New York for a workout with the team. The Jets' pursuit of both backs makes you wonder about their confidence in Hall this season. If Hall returns at his 2022 form, that would be big for the Jets offense. It's a big storyline early this season.
I don't believe Aaron Rodgers will win another MVP. But the Jets don't need him to be that player for their big move to pay off. Rodgers can comfortably be a top-10 quarterback again this season, especially with a reportedly renewed excitement and a good team around him. On defense, assuming a massive improvement carries over to the next season is often incorrect, but it's easy to be excited about this Jets group with Robert Saleh guiding it. The Jets would have been a playoff team last season with average quarterback play, and Rodgers might be well above average. It's a tough AFC East and a tough AFC on the whole, but the Jets could be a Super Bowl team this season.
Part of playing with the Jets is dealing with New York. Aaron Rodgers seems to be doing well with that now, but what happens if the Jets struggle a bit? Their early season schedule (vs. Buffalo Bills, at Dallas Cowboys, vs. New England Patriots, vs. Kansas City Chiefs) is brutal. Giving cryptic quotes to a friendly interviewer during tough times might play a lot differently in New York than it did in the NFL's smallest market. It's possible this all turns out very poorly. Rodgers is about to turn 40, after all. The defense could have a massive regression. The Jets play in a tough division. It would be a disaster for the Jets if Rodgers looks like he's finished, they finish below .500 and out of the playoffs, but that outcome is certainly possible.
The crystal ball says ...
Jets coach Robert Saleh didn't slow down the excitement for this season, proclaiming his team a Super Bowl contender.
“In my opinion, I think 32 coaches stand in front of their teams every year and talk about winning a championship,” Saleh said, via the New York Post. “Realistically, there’s maybe six or eight teams that have an actual chance to do it and I do think we are one of those teams."
Aaron Rodgers wasn't shy either.
“I noticed walking in this morning that that Super Bowl III trophy is looking a little lonely," Rodgers said when he was introduced to the media, via the AP.
I'll buy the hype. I like the Jets to have a big season. Saleh is right; the Jets are among the teams that can win a Super Bowl. It's hard to get them to a championship (though the betting odds are good), but the Jets will win double-digit games and be one of the teams nobody wants to face in the playoffs. No matter what happens they'll be a must-watch team all season.
Other team previews
31. Houston Texans
30. Chicago Bears
29. Tennessee Titans
28. Los Angeles Rams
22. Denver Broncos
21. Atlanta Falcons
18. New York Giants
14. Cleveland Browns
11. Seattle Seahawks
10. Baltimore Ravens