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What Version of Aaron Rodgers Will the Jets Be Getting?

Rodgers’s stats plummeted in Green Bay last season. We dove into the data and his 2022 film to determine whether the Jets are getting a QB in decline.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This piece was published in early March after Aaron Rodgers made it clear he planned to play for the Jets in 2023. Now, the trade is being finalized, with Rodgers reportedly going to New York along with the no. 15 pick and a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft in exchange for the no. 13 pick, a second-rounder, a sixth-rounder, and a conditional second-round pick in 2024.

Aaron Rodgers finally admitted Wednesday that he wants to play quarterback for the New York Jets, and the Green Bay Packers seem to agree. Green Bay president Mark Murphy spoke about Rodgers in the past tense when discussing the quarterback’s future with the franchise recently. When the 39-year-old QB told Pat McAfee on Wednesday that his intention is to play with New York in 2023, the Jets’ Twitter account fired off a meme with enough haste to make you believe they knew it was coming.

There are still some loose ends to tie up before everyone can get their wish, but Rodgers will almost certainly be playing in a different shade of green when the 2023 season kicks off in September.

According to Rodgers, the Jets and Packers are still working out the trade compensation, so it’s impossible to know exactly what New York will eventually give up in the deal, but it won’t matter all that much. If Rodgers plays like an MVP, the Jets will feel good about the price they paid no matter how steep. If he’s anything less than that, and unable to turn a team with a talented defense and a young offensive core into a contender, it will be considered a failure even if Rodgers is acquired at a discount. Only one question matters: What version of Aaron Rodgers are they getting?

For starters, Rodgers is a four-time MVP who’s only a year removed from the second of back-to-back MVP seasons. But he did not resemble an MVP-caliber player last season. In 2022, the Packers offense was inconsistent, and a team that started the year with Super Bowl aspirations missed the playoffs entirely, while Rodgers finished with the worst stat line of his career.

Rodgers’s Worst Seasons by Total EPA

Season Dropbacks Total EPA EPA/Dropback Yards per Dropback Success % Touchdowns Interceptions
Season Dropbacks Total EPA EPA/Dropback Yards per Dropback Success % Touchdowns Interceptions
2022 585 -16.5 -0.03 6.1 44.3% 26 12
2015 659 5.2 0.01 5.9 41.9% 31 8
2017 275 30.5 0.11 5.9 50.2% 16 6
Via TruMedia

That doesn’t bode well for Jets fans looking at Rodgers as the savior for a club that hasn’t had a true franchise quarterback in about 50 years. But there’s some key context missing if we’re looking at Rodgers’s 2022 stat line alone: Green Bay’s roster wasn’t very good last season. It wasn’t Rodgers’s fault alone that the offense faltered, and he can’t be blamed for a defense that failed to meet preseason expectations. It wasn’t his fault that the only reliable receiver on the roster was Allen Lazard (who is now, conveniently, a Jet). While Rodgers did not play like an MVP-level quarterback, he wasn’t nearly as bad as the numbers suggest. He finished the year as the eighth-best quarterback in my QB Rankings here on The Ringer, and after rewatching some of his late-season tape in recent days, I’d double down on that placement.

Even if Rodgers is no longer an elite quarterback, he remains a very good player at the sport’s most important position, and one who will instantly improve the Jets and push them into playoff contention in the AFC East. But unless Rodgers gets all the way back to that MVP level, he’ll need significant help from the rest of the roster for the Jets to become a true Super Bowl threat.

I feel confident saying that because we just saw it play out last year in Green Bay. When you drill down into Rodgers’s numbers, it’s difficult to find any evidence that his throwing ability declined in 2022, a good sign for a player who will turn 40 during the 2023 season. His accuracy rate improved compared to his 2021 season, including on deep passes only. If Rodgers had lost any throwing ability, you’d expect that his deep ball would disappear first, but that just wasn’t the case. At least once a week during the 2022 season, Rodgers showed he was still capable of making 99th-percentile throws:

Rodgers spun the football as well as he had in previous years; the decline in his production and performance was caused by what was happening before and after the throws.

Let’s start with the “after” part of that statement first, because it’s the easiest one to explain: Having Davante Adams on your team simply makes playing quarterback easier. It certainly did for Rodgers. He could flip a simple screen pass out to Adams with the confidence that the receiver would turn it into a productive play. Or if the defense got aggressive and played press man coverage, Rodgers could throw a fade with the confidence that Adams would not only track the ball down but also catch it. Packers receivers struggled to do either last season after Adams was traded to the Raiders. And, most importantly, Rodgers could trust Adams to be at the right place at the right time. That trust is required to complete the tight-window throws to the intermediate part of the field that vanished from Green Bay’s passing game last season. Compare Rodgers’s production on those three particular throws in 2021 to 2022:

Rodgers’s Yards Per Attempt by Pass Type

Season WR Screens Go Balls 15-25 Air Yards Between the Numbers
Season WR Screens Go Balls 15-25 Air Yards Between the Numbers
2021 6.0 11.2 19.3
2022 5.0 8.9 12.5
Via TruMedia

Surprisingly, it takes more than Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, and Lazard to replace one of the NFL’s best receivers.

But the Packers’ underwhelming receiving corps is no longer Rodgers’s problem. He’s moving to a Jets team that rosters Garrett Wilson, last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year; Elijah Moore; and the aforementioned Lazard, who agreed to a free agent deal with the Jets on Tuesday. That isn’t a bad group, but Wilson isn’t quite Adams at this point in his career and it’s going to take some time for the young wideout and Rodgers to build rapport. Due to the Packers’ reluctance to invest significant free agent capital into bolstering the receiver room over the past few years, we don’t have many other examples of Rodgers building chemistry with an already-established receiving talent. It’s easy to pencil Wilson directly into the Adams role in the Jets offense, but there will almost certainly be some growing pains.

Still, the fact that Rodgers might need to be more reliant on his surrounding talent than he’s been in the past isn’t at the top of my list of concerns. My biggest question is about his waning mobility. It may have been hard to notice when watching games live, but the numbers make it clear that Rodgers no longer moves as well as he used to, which tends to happen to 39-year-old players. Per Next Gen Stats, Rodgers set five-year lows in rushing yards, yards per carry, rush EPA, and rushing yards over expected. On top of that, he reached 15 mph on only 10 of his runs last season. In 2018, he did so 28 times. In 2019, the number dropped to 20. It was 16 the following year, and then 13 in 2021. So this has been a steady decline, and one that we should probably expect to continue.

This isn’t just an issue on scrambles; declining mobility also affected Rodgers as a passer. On plays outside the pocket, his success rate dropped nearly 10 percentage points from 2021 to 2022, according to TruMedia. Rodgers is strong enough in other areas to make up for a lack of mobility, but that was the thing that separated him from the old guard of quarterback peers, like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, who did all their work in the pocket. Rodgers could do all the pocket stuff at a high level, too, but he could also make off-platform throws that those other guys wouldn’t even attempt. Without that ability to throw on the move, Rodgers is a fundamentally different quarterback and becomes a lot easier to defend.

That doesn’t mean Rodgers’s days of playing elite football are over. We were having these same conversations about Brady when he left for Tampa Bay, and that turned out just fine. But Brady also landed on a star-studded team with a deep receiving corps, a top-10 offensive line, and a top-five defense. When the Buccaneers’ roster declined in 2022, Brady looked more like a 45-year-old who needed to go home and be a family man. It seems like a realistic outcome here would be for Rodgers and the Jets to speed through a similar arc—only without that Super Bowl–winning season.

The trap that Jets GM Joe Douglas must avoid is assuming that everything that worked for New York last season—from the defensive success to the Breece Hall–led run game—will work again in 2022. Trading for Rodgers is just the start of transforming this roster to the point that it will be able to compete with the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals and their much younger elite quarterbacks in the AFC. There was a time when bringing in Rodgers would have been enough to close that gap on its own. But, much like his time in Green Bay, the days when Rodgers could individually elevate a roster to contention are either already over or coming to an end very soon.