The Jets are in the market for a quarterback … again. This is the first in a three-part series exploring their options this offseason. The first part is a look at trading for Packers star Aaron Rodgers.
Jets fans are suddenly searching for clues on “The Pat McAfee Show,” researching ayahuasca and watching a lot of “Jeopardy!” hoping for signs that Aaron Rodgers will be their next quarterback.
Those fans may need to R-E-L-A-X.
It could be a while before Rodgers’ future becomes clear and whether that involves a trade to Gang Green. Rodgers and the Jets made sense in many ways, but there remain some big questions: Would Rodgers want to play for the Jets, and would team owner Woody Johnson be willing to pick up the $59.465 million tab for Rodgers to play in 2023?
Johnson said after the season that he “absolutely” would be willing to spend on a veteran quarterback this offseason if that is what general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh tell him they want to do. Johnson, however, may not have had a price tag of close to $60 million in mind.
As the Jets ponder their quarterback options this offseason, the Rodgers question hovers over it. The possibility of adding a future Hall of Famer may be too good to pass up.
At the moment, that is all just speculation. The Packers have not indicated they are willing to trade Rodgers. And Rodgers has not said whether he intends to play in 2023, and if he does play, whether he wants to be traded. He has provided very few clues about what he plans to do. It is the third straight season of trying to read the tea leaves with Rodgers.
“All the other ideas about [a] trade and whatnot, that’s all conjecture until I decide what I want to do moving forward for myself,” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show” this week.
The conjecture got a boost last weekend when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported it is a “real possibility” both the Packers and Rodgers are thinking about a trade this offseason.
The Jets have been connected to the Rodgers sweepstakes through logic. After their disaster this past season with Zach Wilson, Saleh and Douglas need a “win now” quarterback in 2023. Rodgers fits the bill. Johnson has shown he likes to acquire shiny toys. Notably, he traded for Brett Favre, Rodgers’ predecessor at Green Bay, in 2008.
Could Johnson swing another deal with the Packers for an aging superstar?
The first domino to fall will be whether Rodgers is willing to come to the Jets. Rodgers does not have a no-trade clause, but no team would trade for him without assurances that he wants to play for them. Some believe he would not be comfortable under the New York spotlight. The Jets certainly are in a better place than they have been to attract a player of Rodgers’ pedigree. They have a top-five defense. They have young weapons such as Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall and Elijah Moore. And they are expected to revamp the offensive line this offseason.
The Jets are in the process of hiring an offensive coordinator, and Nathaniel Hackett, who worked with Rodgers in Green Bay and whom the quarterback has spoken highly of, is one of the candidates. Hackett’s presence, however, does not guarantee anything. Just ask the Broncos. When they hired Hackett as their head coach last season, some believed Rodgers would follow him to Denver.
Saleh and Rodgers have some familiarity because of Saleh’s close relationship with Packers head coach Matt LaFleur. Rodgers said he congratulated Saleh when the Jets hired him while he was FaceTiming with LaFleur. Saleh has faced Rodgers as a coordinator and head coach and got to watch him practice in the summer of 2021, when the Jets and Packers practiced together in Green Bay.
“Watching him in a practice setting, I thought it was, for me, one of the cooler experiences,” Saleh said at the time. “You hear about Hall of Famers and you hear about how their practice habits are and I just thought the way he communicated with his teammates, the way he talked to his coaches, the respect and the regard that his teammates have for not only him but it’s reciprocated from him to his teammates, just a class act. And everything people think of him is exactly right, he’s A-1.”
From a Jets perspective, the biggest hurdle is money. A potential trade for Rodgers would not be a salary cap issue. The three-year, $150 million contract extension he signed in March is structured in a way that keeps the cap hits low for the next two years.
There is a good breakdown of Rodgers’ contract at overthecap.com. Basically, whatever team Rodgers plays for in 2023 would have the option to break Rodgers’ compensation up into a $1.165 million base salary and a $58.3 million bonus. The bonus can be prorated over four years to lower the cap charge. His 2024 salary has a similar option. His cap charges would be a combined $48 million over the next two seasons.
So, the Jets could make the cap work. The question is whether Johnson can make the cash work. Even though the bonus would be prorated for cap purposes, Rodgers would be due the $20.3 million within 10 days of the team exercising the option and the other $38 million before Sept. 30.
While Johnson is a billionaire, the Jets do operate under a budget and part of the allure of drafting Zach Wilson in 2021 was having a quarterback playing on a rookie contract and being able to allocate money elsewhere. The Jets surely did not have $60 million in the budget for a quarterback when planning for the 2023 season.
The Packers may be hesitant to trade Rodgers because they will incur a $40 million dead-money charge if they do. If they do move on from Rodgers, it will be because they will have decided they’ve had enough and want to start Jordan Love. It won’t make much financial sense for them.
The Other Issues
Beyond the financial compensation, the Jets would also have to give up draft capital to acquire Rodgers. Just how much depends on who you ask. There was media speculation that the Packers would want two first-round picks for Rodgers. Those around the league feel that is unrealistic. At 39 years old, Rodgers is older than other quarterbacks who have been traded in recent years. The acquiring team would be absorbing his contract, and if it gets to the point of trade talks, would be taking a potential headache off of Green Bay’s hands.
Any trade package probably would be based on how Rodgers performs this coming season. A team could send a mid- and late-round pick in the 2023 draft to Green Bay and also deal a pick or picks in 2024 that are conditional based on things like how many games Rodgers plays, whether he wins MVP, and whether the team make the playoffs, the Super Bowl and wins the Super Bowl. A fourth-round pick could become a first-rounder based on Rodgers hitting certain marks in 2023.
A big question for the Jets is whether they believe Rodgers is declining. He had one of his worst seasons in 2022 after winning the MVP award in 2020 and 2021. Rodgers threw 12 interceptions, his most in a decade, and did not have a single 300-yard passing game last season. The Packers went 8-9 and missed the playoffs.
Then, there is the question of how many years Rodgers wants to play. Is it worth doing all of that for one season? He could be a short-term fix, but the team acquiring him would be searching for another quarterback in 2024. Rodgers has flirted with walking away for several years now.
Rodgers may drag this out and the Jets may not be able to wait. Other quarterbacks, such as Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, are going to find homes by mid-March. The Jets can’t be left without a partner at the end of the game of QB musical chairs.
“I’ve got to figure out what I want to do,” Rodgers told McAfee, “and then we’ll see where all the parties are at and what kind of transpires after that.”
Things could get interesting.
Coming tomorrow: Could Jimmy G or Derek Carr be the answer?