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Can Aaron Rodgers Save the New York Jets From Their QB Nightmares?

Aaron Rodgers doesn’t need to be the GOAT in New York. He just needs to be the missing puzzle piece to make the Jets into a playoff contender.

AP Images/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

When your favorite sports team is down bad, like the New York Jets have been for most of my football-watching life, you daydream that all these awful losses will be worth it when your team’s young players develop into stars. Every draft pick could be a future ticker tape parade; every turnover and rookie mistake might be a moment you’ll look back on and smile about someday. It’s a process the Jets seemingly gave up on on Monday, when they decided to stop messing around with drafting quarterbacks and trade for one of the greatest of all time. Aaron Rodgers is now a Jet, ending a comically long string of quarterback failures.

The Jets have used three top-10 picks on QBs in the last 15 years. We dreamed about Mark Sanchez, who became most famous for running into a butt so hard it turned into a touchdown for the other team. We pined for Sam Darnold, who became most famous for seeing ghosts. We cheered Zach Wilson, who became most famous for how aggressively his teammates celebrated his benching. Just about the only quarterback the Jets drafted who ended up working out is Geno Smith—and he panned out nine years later, and with the Seahawks. We’re done with dreams: Give us the four-time MVP.

This should be one of the most exciting days in the admittedly unexciting history of the Jets. Their single-season passing yardage record, set in 1967 in a 14-game AFL season, is held by Joe Namath. The single-season TD record is held by Ryan Fitzpatrick, for some reason. If Rodgers had played his whole career in a Jets uniform, he’d have broken Namath’s record nine times and Fitzpatrick’s record six times.

But the months of drawn-out negotiation for Rodgers’s services were almost enough to make us yearn for the familiar comfort of drafting a QB and suffering through his growing pains. Rodgers has been in open revolt against the Packers organization for … what, four years now? Years of griping about the lack of elite receivers and management’s decision to use a draft pick on Jordan Love, years of threats to retire. It was funny to watch when it was the Packers’ problem, but now it’s our problem. We suddenly became the ones who had to stream The Pat McAfee Show to hear Rodgers’s cryptic message of the week.

We had to worry about whether Rodgers’s open declaration that he wanted to play for New York gave the Jets or the Packers leverage. In the end, the cost to acquire him was high: a first-round pick swap and a second-rounder in this year’s draft, plus a conditional first-rounder next year. The Jets are also responsible for Rodgers’s onerous contract, which has $59.5 million in contract guarantees for this season.

You want the quarterback of your team to feel like Your Guy. But Rodgers is not Our Guy. He was Wisconsin’s Guy for about 15 years. Recently, it’s seemed like he’s nobody’s Guy but his own, as he’s been openly hostile toward management, media, and modern medicine. (A series of phrases I know only because of Aaron Rodgers: “darkness retreat,” “cancel culture casket,” “Shailene Woodley.”) The Jets have agreed to give up multiple draft picks and pay nearly $60 million for a 39-year-old quarterback in a league in which only one QB has ever succeeded past 40—I won’t say his name; this column is a safe space for Jets fans. And our new 39-year-old QB just played his worst season in about a decade, has spoken openly about wanting to retire, and may be playing only because of the aforementioned $60 million guarantee. And our new 39-year-old QB is, well, kind of a dick.

It doesn’t help that the Jets have been through nearly this exact scenario before, when the Jets traded for 38-year-old Packer legend Brett Favre in 2008. Favre played one disappointing season in New York, then retired, then unretired to play for a different team. We were told we were getting a franchise savior, and instead that season is most remembered for Favre sending a picture of his penis to a team employee.

There have been times lately when I have been like, “We don’t even need Aaron Rodgers,” as if I am not a fan of the New York Jets, the team with the longest active postseason drought in American pro sports, the team everybody makes fun of, the team with a list of humiliations longer than our successes.

And then I look at the roster.

The Jets have been a puzzle with one missing piece—and in the NFL, quarterback might as well be the only piece. The 2022 Jets probably would have made the playoffs with, like, the NFL’s fourth-best backup QB as the starter. Instead they had Wilson, Mike White, Joe Flacco, and Chris Streveler. They were fourth in points allowed and fourth worst in points scored. After their 7-4 start, I began wondering whether the Jets were actually good this year. They responded by finishing the season on a six-game losing streak, including three games in which they failed to score a touchdown.

For all the Jets’ failed attempts to draft a franchise quarterback, GM Joe Douglas has been incredibly good at finding talent basically everywhere else. Last year New York became the became the third team in NFL history to have the NFL’s offensive and defensive rookies of the year in the same season, wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner, respectively. The defense has almost no weak spots, the offensive line is solid, and the team is loaded with young, talented skill-position players.

The Jets’ dreams of watching a young quarterback develop into a star have failed time and time again—but if they didn’t get a quarterback right now, they’d risk watching an entire roster fail to capitalize on their development. So maybe Aaron Rodgers doesn’t have to be Our Guy. This team is full of Our Guys. He just has to help them shine.