Jets can’t waste Aaron Rodgers chance with foundation in place

Let’s imagine for a minute that the speculation Aaron Rodgers will be traded by the Packers had happened in February 2021 instead of February 2023.

You would have been laughed at if you suggested the Jets as a possible destination for Rodgers. Not because the Jets didn’t need a quarterback — they were two months away from trading Sam Darnold and drafting Zach Wilson — but because they were a team that needed a roster overhaul, and a veteran quarterback was not the “missing piece” then as Woody Johnson has said it is now.

Now, the Jets are the team most commonly linked with Rodgers. That fact alone shows why they need to swing for the fences. The Jets are no longer rebuilding. The foundation is built, but they need the finishing touches to make the playoffs. Landing Rodgers, if that becomes a realistic possibility, is at the top of the list of those finishing touches.

For years, the Jets have been pointing to the future. When Joe Douglas was hired as general manager in 2019, he set out to get the team in better salary-cap shape. Then, he started moving assets to acquire draft capital. The biggest one of those was the Jamal Adams trade, which brought back two first-round picks.

Aaron Rodgers
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Bill Murray and Aaron Rodgers greet each other on the sixth hole during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at Spyglass Hill Golf Course.
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When Robert Saleh arrived as head coach in 2021, it felt as if everyone was pointing to 2023. That was the season the Jets felt they could contend. They were going to be treading water with a rookie quarterback in 2021, teaching young players to win in 2022 then going for it in 2023. For the first two months of the 2022 season, it felt as if the Jets had arrived early and might make the playoffs. Then they lost the final six games of the season and spent January watching the postseason.

It was clear in 2022, even when the Jets were winning, that quarterback was holding them back. Wilson never took the step everyone in the organization hoped he would take in 2022, and by the end of the season, he had no confidence in himself and the team had no confidence in him.

The Jets were left to wonder how many games they would have won with a veteran quarterback under center. They might have gone 10-7 or even 11-6. If Rodgers were on the 2022 Jets, could they have won a wild-card playoff game? Probably.

Johnson seemed to grasp that in his meeting with reporters after the season, when he said he was willing to spend on a veteran quarterback. Now he has to follow through, and give Douglas and Saleh what they ask to get the Jets into the playoffs in 2023. It is no longer about playing meaningful games in December. It is about winning those games and playing truly meaningful games in January.

Acquiring Rodgers would be the biggest splash move the Jets can make. But they also need to extend star defender Quinnen Williams’ contract. They need to add new pieces to the offensive line. They need to bring back free agents Quincy Williams and Sheldon Rankins.

If Rodgers decides he wants to return to the Packers or the Jets are not for him, Douglas has to be permitted to pivot to the high-priced free agents on the market.

Roger Goodell, Woody Johnson and Curtis Martin watch the Jets upset the Bills.
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Johnson talks about his desire to win. He has to show it this offseason and give his front office whatever it needs to put this roster over the top. For years, I have been against the Jets making a splashy trade or signing because they felt so far away from winning. But now they are close. The defense is playoff-caliber. Young stars like Williams, Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall, Elijah Moore and Alijah Vera-Tucker have given the fans hope for the future.

The window to win is open. The Jets now have to run right through it.

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