Sports

A difficult Aaron Rodgers pursuit by the Jets could take a while

The Jets are in the market for a quarterback … again. This is the first in a three-part series exploring their offseason options. The first part is a look at trading Packers star Aaron Rodgers.

Jets fans are suddenly looking 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.

These fans may need to RELAX.

It could be a while before Rodgers’ future becomes clear, and whether it involves a trade with Gang Green. Rodgers and the Jets made sense in many ways, but some big questions remain: Would Rodgers want to play for the Jets, and would team owner Woody Johnson be willing to pony up $59.465 million for Rodgers to play in 2023?

Johnson said after the season that he would “absolutely” be willing to spend on a veteran quarterback this offseason if that’s what general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh tell him they want to do. However, Johnson may not have had a price tag close to $60 million in mind.


Aaron Rodgers
Getty Images

As the Jets consider their offseason quarterback options, the Rodgers question looms large. The opportunity to add a future Hall of Famer might be too good to pass up.

At the moment it’s 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, whether he wants to be traded. He has given very few clues as to what he intends to do. This is the third season in a row where you try to read the tea leaves with Rodgers.

“All the other ideas about (a) trade and what not, it’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 speculation got a boost last weekend when ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that it’s a “real possibility” both the Packers and Rodgers are considering a trade this offseason.

The Jets have been linked to Rodgers’ competitions through logic. After their disaster last season with Zach Wilson, Saleh and Douglas need a “win now” quarterback in 2023. Rodgers fits the bill. Johnson has shown that he likes to acquire shiny toys. Most notably, he traded for Brett Favre, Rodgers’ predecessor in Green Bay, in 2008.

Could Johnson make another deal with the Packers for an aging superstar?

Broadway Aaron

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 will play for them. Some believe he would not be comfortable under the New York spotlight. The Jets are certainly in a better place than they’ve been to attract a player of Rodgers’ pedigree. They have a top-five defense. They have young guns like Garrett Wilson, Breece Hall and Elijah Moore. And they are expected to revamp the offensive line this offseason.


Aaron Rodgers

The Jets are in the process of hiring an offensive coordinator, and Nathaniel Hackett, who worked with Rodgers in Green Bay and who the quarterback has talked about a lot, is one of the candidates. However, Hackett’s presence does not guarantee anything. Just ask the Broncos. When they hired Hackett as their head coach last season, some thought Rodgers would follow him to Denver.

Saleh and Rodgers have some familiarity due to 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 met Rodgers as a coordinator and head coach and got to see him work out in the summer of 2021 when the Jets and Packers practiced together in Green Bay.


Packers
New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh, former offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (left) and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers during a joint NFL football practice in 2021.
AP

“When I saw him in a training environment, I thought for me it was one of the coolest experiences,” Saleh said at the time. “You hear about Hall of Famers and you hear about what their practice habits are like, and I just thought about the way he communicated with his teammates, the way he talked to his coaches, the respect and the respect 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 about him is absolutely right, he’s A-1.”

The contract

From a Jets perspective, the biggest obstacle 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 low for the next two years.

There’s a good overview of Rodgers’ contract at overthecap.com. Basically, whichever team Rodgers plays for in 2023 will have the option to split Rodgers’ compensation into a base salary of $1.165 million and a bonus of $58.3 million. The bonus can be distributed proportionally over four years to lower the ceiling. His 2024 salary has a similar option. His rates would be $48 million over the next two seasons.


Jets
Jets owner Woody Johnson’s commitment to paying for a big-time QB would be tested in an Aaron Rodgers deal.
Bill Kostroun for the New York Post

So the Jets could make the cap work. The question is whether Johnson can make the money work. Although the bonus would be prorated for cap purposes, Rodgers would have to pay the $20.3 million within 10 days of the team’s exercise of the option and the other $38 million by Sept. 30.

While Johnson is a billionaire, the Jets are operating under a budget, and part of the allure of drafting Zach Wilson in 2021 was having a quarterback who was playing on a rookie contract and was able to allocate money elsewhere. The Jets certainly didn’t have $60 million in the budget for a quarterback when they planned for the 2023 season.

The Packers may be hesitant to trade Rodgers because they will incur a $40 million dead money fee if they do. If they 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 questions

In addition to the financial compensation, the Jets would also have to give up draft capital to acquire Rodgers. How much depends on who you ask. There was speculation in the media that the Packers wanted two first-round picks for Rodgers. Those around the league feel that is unrealistic. At 39, Rodgers is older than other quarterbacks traded in recent years. The acquiring team would absorb his contract, and if it gets to the point of trade talks, it would take a potential headache off Green Bay’s hands.

Any trade package would likely be based on how Rodgers performs in the upcoming season. A team could send a mid-to-late 2023 draft pick to Green Bay and also give one or more picks in 2024 that are contingent based on things like how many games Rodgers plays, whether he wins MVP and whether the team makes the playoffs , the Super Bowl and winning the Super Bowl. A fourth-round pick could become a first-rounder based on Rodgers hitting certain grades in 2023.

A big question for the Jets is whether they believe Rodgers is on the decline. 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 didn’t 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 that in one season? He could be a short-term solution, but the team that acquires him would be looking for another quarterback in 2024. Rodgers has flirted with walking away for several years now.

Rodgers can pull this off and the Jets may not be able to wait. Other quarterbacks, such as Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, will find homes in mid-March. The Jets can’t be without a partner at the end of the game with 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 and what kind of thing happens after that.”

Things could get interesting.

Coming tomorrow: Could Jimmy G or Derek Carr be the answer?

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