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There Goes the Jets’ Aaron Rodgers Era. Here Comes Chaos.

The New York Jets built their entire infrastructure around one man. After Week 1, he’s out for the year with a torn Achilles. What are the ripple effects from Rodgers’s injury?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Well, you’ve got to hand it to him. Aaron Rodgers has a winning record in his first year as a Jets starter.

That record, unfortunately, will stick at 1-0. Rodgers, after five months of fanfare, ruptured his Achilles tendon on the fourth play of his first drive as a member of the New York Jets on Monday Night Football against the Buffalo Bills. The anointed savior of the league’s most quarterback-tortured franchise handed off to running back Breece Hall once and dropped back three times before Bills defensive end Leonard Floyd blew by Jets tackle Duane Brown on a cut block and sacked Rodgers, who rolled his ankle on the way to the turf. His 2023 campaign ends with zero passes completed and leaves the Jets with an Aaron Rodgers–sized hole in their season.

For almost any team, the quarterback is the sun around which the whole organization orbits. Lose him, and everyone’s left spinning aimlessly in the dark. Few organizations, though, have ever centered any singular player to the degree the Jets had done with Rodgers this year. If you watched HBO’s Hard Knocks, you would have seen on average roughly one Rodgers highlight montage per episode. The narrative was obvious: Despite the fact that Rodgers arrived with more baggage than the claims area at JFK, with Rodgers on the roster, these would not be the Same Old Jets. The 39-year-old passer radiated main character energy. At his urging, the Jets hired several of Rodgers’s friends this offseason. Former Packers receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb joined him in New York. Before completing the trade for Rodgers, the Jets hired former Broncos head coach (is it fair to call him disgraced?) and noted friend-of-Rodgers Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator. Rodgers had bought in, too; he took an unprecedented $35 million pay cut to give New York the roster-building flexibility to go all in this year. (I wonder how he feels about that now.)

It was easy to believe this could work. I think it was right to do so. Rodgers had a down year in 2022 that can be partially explained by a thumb injury and receiver turnover in Green Bay, but before that he’d won back-to-back MVPs and was the type of quarterback who almost never becomes available in the NFL. He didn’t even need to be great for the Jets to make it all worthwhile; the Jets nearly made the playoffs with some of the league’s worst quarterbacking last year. For Jets head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, Rodgers represented a chance to erase the cardinal sin that has weighed down their otherwise impressive tenures: the drafting of Zach Wilson in 2021 and the failure to develop him since. That story is re-centered now, and you could see Saleh staring blankly into the void of it all, contemplating his new reality of 16 more games of Wilson, leading a Hackett offense, after Rodgers went down.

Hackett is the most obvious vestigial organ of the Jets without Rodgers. This is the second straight job Hackett has gotten (probably) because of his relationship with Rodgers, and the second straight job in which he will not end up coaching him. If you watched Hard Knocks, you saw Hackett perform the role of friend and cheerleader, while Rodgers doled out coaching points and motivation. On the ManningCast on Monday night, after Eli Manning wondered aloud what message Hackett would have delivered to Wilson at halftime, Peyton Manning answered: “I think he spent most of that time vomiting.”

It is now Hackett’s job to design a run game that can put up points and come up with the right complementary passing game to shield Wilson from the mistakes that doomed his first two years in New York. I really don’t know whether there’s enough play-action in the world to make that happen. I do know that we are in for five more games of it in prime time.

Cobb’s and Lazard’s roles are also less clear now, though that’s not exactly a crisis. I do know what Garrett Wilson’s role in this offense is, which is to do this as much as he possibly can:

This is all, of course, assuming the Jets roll with Wilson, which, on Monday night, Saleh said they would. He was clear when he said it, though I wonder whether watching the film might have him rethinking those words. Because, oh, right, the Jets won the game!

The cruel irony of the Jets’ rally without Rodgers to beat the Bills in overtime is that it was proof of concept for the trade. The defense was suffocating and collected four turnovers, the one thing that eluded them during an otherwise dominant 2022 season (the Jets finished fifth in defensive DVOA despite ending the year ranked 29th with 16 takeaways). Hall, the second-year running back who is returning from an ACL tear, played just 17 snaps against the Bills but was explosive, starting his night off with a 26-yard carry and adding a highlight-reel 83-yard run before halftime. Undrafted receiver Xavier Gipson, a feel-good story from Hard Knocks, scored a walk-off punt-return touchdown to win the game in overtime. The one major roster concern, the offensive line, was also on display: Rodgers was hit on each of the three dropbacks he made in the game—though it looked like he was hanging on to the ball on plays designed for it to come out quickly on at least two of them. But overall, the formula the Jets relied on after losing Rodgers on Monday worked. They navigated their way to a win while not letting Zach Wilson inflict too much damage. He finished 14-of-21 with 140 yards, an interception, a touchdown, and a lot of screens; that they won the game at all was depressing evidence that this team was, indeed, a quarterback away from being a contender.

If this becomes temptation enough to add a new passer, the pickings are rather slim. Carson Wentz was released by Washington in February and hasn’t found work. Matt Ryan works for CBS but hasn’t filed retirement papers. Philip Rivers was, somehow, the guy the 49ers considered to be their best option if they’d managed to win the NFC championship game last season, but he’s been out of the league for two years. Tom Brady has the opportunity to do the funniest thing possible, but he’d probably have to divest from the Raiders in order to do so. Um, Joe Flacco?

Within the league, it’s hard to work a trade in Week 2, when most teams still feel hopeful about their chances for the year—and the 49ers already dealt Trey Lance, the quarterback taken one pick after Wilson in 2021. I do think the Jets should at least make a call to the Cardinals about Kyler Murray, who isn’t currently healthy but is the best quarterback whose team might reasonably consider parting with him, especially considering it’d be sending him to a team outside its own conference. But it’s also understandable if the Jets just throw up their hands and say that this was supposed to be Rodgers’s team, and they can’t just paper over that hole.

Which, really, takes us to 2024. There were some uninspiring performances at the top of the AFC in Week 1, and the rest of the Jets roster looked good enough to win some games without Rodgers. But New York is facing a brutal schedule—next up is the Cowboys, who beat the Giants 40-0 in Week 1—and it’s hard to see them getting through the AFC while wasting their possessions loading up in jumbo packages and calling screens.

Perhaps the lone silver lining of the Rodgers injury is that the Jets will probably keep their first-round pick next year; it would go to the Packers only if he played more than 65 percent of the snaps. Instead, they’ll likely send a second-rounder to Green Bay. The difference won’t be too significant—with Rodgers, this team probably would have wound up low in the draft order—but you take what you can get. They could use that first-rounder to get more help on the offensive line.

New York’s free agent class next year includes running back Dalvin Cook, edge rusher Carl Lawson, tackle Duane Brown, and safety Jordan Whitehead, who had a hat trick of interceptions on Josh Allen, but the core of the Jets roster is signed on for next season. That includes Rodgers, assuming his position on retirement is unchanged, though he’ll have dealt with injuries in his age-38 and age-39 seasons, and will still be recovering from the Achilles tear after turning 40 in December. Both the thumb injury he suffered last year and Achilles injuries in general are random and unpredictable, though tendons and ligaments entering their fourth decade do not have the same strength as those half their age.

Mostly, I can’t believe we’re talking about this right now. That one week into the season, the thing that had been the biggest story leading into it has been erased, and that the best we can say as far as “what now” is that it’s on to 2024 for the Jets. I can’t believe we went through all that just to be listening to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman talk about Tim Boyle in the second quarter of the first Monday Night Football broadcast of the season, while Peyton turned the ManningCast into the roast of Zach Wilson one channel over. But that’s really all there is to it. The Jets have an Aaron Rodgers–sized hole in their universe, football is a brutal game, and the power of positive thinking is a crock of shit.