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Aaron Rodgers Gives Jets Fans a Reason to Dream—and the Team a Legitimate Chance

The long-awaited trade has reportedly happened, wiping the slate clean for both the Packers and the Jets, and giving New York more hope than it’s had in over a decade

AP Images/Ringer illustration

New York Jets fans deserve to dream—real dreams. They have spent the better part of a decade praying to a higher football power for such small things: for Adam Gase to be fired; for Zach Wilson to complete a simple pass after evading pressure. For Wilson to not implode the locker room with a press conference answer. For a time machine to erase Mike Maccagnan’s drafts. The franchise is unworthy of its fan base, a group that loves their team, defends it at all costs, and was long made to look bad by an unserious series of decision-makers. Jets fans swarm media takes about their team, and have been undone when it turned out that the people with the worst takes were very often the ones running the team.

The entire NFL is set up to be fair—for every team to have a chance with the draft, free agency, and scheduling formulas—and it’s cruel that that fairness has skipped over exactly one franchise over the past decade. Other fan bases have gotten to aim so much higher: home playoff games, Super Bowls, MVP candidates. Jets fans, who’ve witnessed the longest active playoff drought in major American sports, simply want to call their parents in Hempstead or Massapequa and tell them things will be better this year. They are not asking for much. They get to make that call now.

Aaron Rodgers, a four-time MVP and one of the best quarterbacks in the history of football, is their new quarterback, plugging a hole in the roster and unlocking a ceiling the team hasn’t had in 15 years.

I do not think the addition of Rodgers makes the Jets top-shelf AFC contenders like the Chiefs, Bengals, or Bills—or particularly close to that level right now—but it gives them a pathway toward that. Anything is better than Wilson, and if Rodgers plays as even the 16th-best QB in the league, the literal middle of the pack, that will probably be enough to deliver a young, talented roster to the playoffs. Hell, the Jets almost got there last season despite Wilson. When you have Quinnen Williams leading a nasty defensive line and an elite second-year cornerback in Sauce Gardner, it doesn’t take much on offense to become a top-seven team in the conference. The upside from there is obvious. My first thought upon hearing the trade news was of another team that picked up a quarterback with a surprisingly limited market and paired him with a fast defense and skill guys: the 2020 Bucs with Tom Brady, who got better on the fly at the end of the season and overran a banged-up Chiefs offensive line to win a Super Bowl.

What the Jets needed, frankly, was something. Anything. In the time since New York last made the playoffs, after the 2010 season, every other NFL franchise has played at least a few games that felt huge to their respective fan bases. The Lions have played three playoff games since the Jets have played one. The Jaguars have won three despite picking in the top 10 in the draft 11 times in that time period. The Jets have not played a Sunday Night Football game since 2011. They play on gray Sundays at 1 p.m. They are, with the exception of a few month-long runs in that time period, the team you dread popping up on RedZone. Now they are one of the epicenters of the football world. Their fans get to get buzzed and secretly look up what Super Bowl travel would cost—and this time sorta mean it.

I am hugely skeptical of anyone who says a sport is better when a certain team is good. No one who loves sports actually cares if, say, USC or the Raiders or the Celtics are good for the sake of propping up a league. But the Jets are different. The people who love this team deserve to stand around in faded Chad Pennington jerseys, smiling about football. There is an old line that when you buy a lottery ticket, you’re actually buying the few hours that you’re able to fantasize about winning. There is no guarantee that the Jets will reach the promised land with Rodgers under center, but there is the guarantee that they’ll get to think about it. That’s beautiful. That’s progress.

Franchises that have been rolling around in the dirt this long need to take big swings to reverse their lot. And this, considering the cost, is not even that big of one: a first-round pick swap and a second-round pick this year, plus a conditional 2024 second that could become a first if Rodgers plays 65 percent of his snaps, is a fine price for so much potential in the offense. So long as Rodgers is committed to football—and that has never been questioned once inside Green Bay’s building—this is a no-brainer. Remember, the Jets had to get some quarterback. Yes, Rodgers is 39 years old, and yes, he’s expensive—likely even after he signs a revised deal. But that’s the price of having any veteran quarterback. It might as well be Rodgers.

Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer said Monday that Jets owner Woody Johnson’s primary concern in any Rodgers trade was “becoming next year’s version of the Broncos,” who gave up two first- and two second-round picks, among other pieces, for Russell Wilson and promptly flopped. Leaving aside how sad this is for the Broncos—that Woody Johnson is scared to become you—the Jets have protected themselves from that. The deal is a nice haul for a Packers team that had only one choice, but it is not crippling to the Jets if everything goes south. The luxury of hitting on picks at the rate Joe Douglas did last year—Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall—is that you have a lot of cheap talent and not all that many gaps to fill. The entire season could be a four-month disaster and the Jets would not be much worse off for it. The reason this move makes sense is because it seems to follow Douglas’s patient, value-driven approach. It looks like a great Jets move because it is not a move that the Jets of the past decade would have made.

So who else wins? Well, football fans, for one. The last time a Packers great went to the Jets, there were daily updates about Brett Favre from his Mississippi farm, which made large swaths of sports television unwatchable. The Rodgers-Packers standoff never got nearly that far. Pat McAfee is far more entertaining than aerial shots of Favre’s farm ever were.

The Packers won simply because the Rodgers saga is over. Though there is now a shocking amount of pressure on Jordan Love, the 2020 first-round pick who inherits a franchise that has had quarterback stability for 31 years. There is also pressure on general manager Brian Gutekunst, who picked Love, and coach Matt LaFleur, who has built a great offense since arriving in Green Bay in 2019—largely around Rodgers. There were so many lingering questions about the Packers’ succession plan that now get answered, for better or worse. The Green Bay roster is still quite good—and draft analyst Tony Pauline speculated Monday that the Packers wanted the no. 13 pick to get Ohio State receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba. So it’s not crazy to think they’ll compete for a playoff spot if, as is the case with Rodgers in New York, Love is even average.

All this speculation is the fun part. But soon will come the hard part: the season. Rodgers will not, contrary to a strange take floating around, dislike the New York media. He will love them for hanging on to his every word and going with him on every press conference tangent. Rodgers will generate back pages to the point that you’ll wonder whether the media would have thrown in a few comp picks themselves to help get him to New York. Really, the only way this can go badly is on the field.

The story here is that both teams had to do this. The Packers needed to end a chapter, and the Jets needed to start a new one. Fan bases should rarely be a consideration for transactions, but both sets were getting restless seeing this drag out. The Packers got what they could and never have to get stressed watching McAfee ever again. The Jets might, but they’ll gladly pay that tax.

It is impossible for any trade to be declared a win-win the moment it’s executed, but I’ll simply say this is a move that had to be made. You could conceivably rip the Packers for waiting a year and not getting a Russell Wilson–level return last offseason—but they wanted to give it one more go with a then-reigning MVP. You can destroy the Jets for rolling the dice on Zach Wilson with the no. 2 pick and losing badly. But the point of these types of trades is to wipe the slate clean. This fall, the Jets will get to see what they think is the idealized version of themselves. And between now and then, they’ll get to dream.