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Nathaniel Hackett is headed to the Jets. Could Aaron Rodgers follow?

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers hugs Packers teammate Randall Cobb after a season-ending loss to the Lions at Lambeau Field. (Morry Gash/AP)
5 min

The New York Jets perhaps became the second straight NFL team to hire Nathaniel Hackett with the possible addition of Aaron Rodgers in mind.

If so, they have to hope it will work out better for them than it did for the Denver Broncos.

The Jets hired Hackett as their offensive coordinator Thursday. He was fired last month after less than one full season in Denver as a rookie NFL head coach and joins an organization that has made undeniable progress in two seasons under Coach Robert Saleh but remains a standout quarterback away from being a viable contender.

That, of course, is where Rodgers comes in. Hackett was the Green Bay Packers’ offensive coordinator before his stint in Denver. He is a respected offensive mind, and he forged a bond with Rodgers. As Rodgers enters another offseason of melodrama, the Jets are a logical potential landing spot if Rodgers does not retire and if the Packers trade him.

Even more so now.

There are a lot of “ifs” standing between Rodgers and the Jets, of course. Rodgers first must opt to continue his NFL career. He said during his regular appearance Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show” that any talk about a prospective trade is just conjecture until he decides whether he will play on. Still, Rodgers did not rule out the possibility of playing elsewhere next season. Far from it.

“I hope there’s some gratitude on both sides if that happens,” Rodgers said. “But again, that doesn’t open the door for any really conjecture, honestly, on my side. And I’m not saying that to be cryptic. I’ve got to figure out what I want to do. And then we’ll see where all the parties are at and what … transpires after that.”

If Rodgers retires, he would forfeit the $59.5 million guaranteed to him for next season under the contract he signed in March. If the Packers trade him, they would have to absorb a $40.3 million salary cap hit next season. They could split that — $15.8 million next season, $24.5 million in 2024 — by trading him after June 1.

“You never know,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “I mean, anytime there’s a situation where change is possible, what’s the old adage that people want to say? ‘Oh, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.’ And I always say, ‘The grass is green where you water it.’ And I think that’s the most important thing to remember. Change is a part of this business. It’s a part of life. And I think being open to it and embracing whatever that change looks like is an important part of coming to peace with whatever decision lies ahead of you.”

Hackett formerly worked alongside Saleh as an assistant coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hackett’s father is a former Jets offensive coordinator. So Thursday’s move was not entirely about Rodgers.

But to try to contend that it’s not at least partially about Rodgers probably would be foolish. The Jets went 7-10 this season with Zach Wilson, Mike White and Joe Flacco as their quarterbacks.

Wilson is trending dangerously close to becoming an NFL draft bust. He was the No. 2 choice in 2021 but has failed to resemble a franchise quarterback, and Saleh benched him twice this season. The second time, it was in favor of journeyman quarterback Chris Streveler.

The Jets could move on from Wilson. Or maybe they could allow him to sit and learn for a couple of seasons behind a legendary quarterback who has expressed support for him. Rodgers, 39, did not play like a four-time league MVP this season. But he did regroup to lead the Packers on a late-season charge that kept them in playoff contention until they lost at home to the Detroit Lions in the final game of the regular season. He could have some productive football left in him. He is a youngster compared with the other quarterbacking great who could be on the move this offseason, Tom Brady.

The Packers have said they would like to have Rodgers back. But they could instead begin a new era by making Rodgers’s understudy, 2020 first-round draft pick Jordan Love, their next quarterbacking centerpiece.

This season’s Broncos provide a cautionary tale to the Jets. There was plenty of Rodgers-to-Denver talk when the Broncos hired Hackett as their coach last offseason. But Rodgers remained in Green Bay, and the Broncos instead traded for Russell Wilson, who had a career-worst season. The Broncos were 4-11 when they dismissed Hackett the day after Christmas.

Brady, Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, Daniel Jones and Geno Smith are eligible for free agency this offseason. Jackson has been at a contract impasse with the Baltimore Ravens and perhaps could be traded even if he is franchise-tagged. The Las Vegas Raiders could trade or release Derek Carr. It could be another offseason of movement for high-profile quarterbacks, and Rodgers and the Jets could be right in the middle of it.

“I’m open to all honest and direct conversation,” Rodgers said this week. “If they felt like it was in the best interests of the team to move forward, so be it. Again, that wouldn’t offend me. That wouldn’t make me feel like a victim. I wouldn’t have any animosity towards the team. I love the team. I love the organization. I love the city. I love the region. … I have a lot of love for what’s gone on in Green Bay. And I’d love to finish there. I would. And I might have finished there. Who knows?”