In the most concrete sign yet that Aaron Rodgers intends to continue his NFL career — but quite possibly not with Green Bay — a contingent of top-level Jets officials flew to California on Tuesday after the Packers permitted New York to speak with the star quarterback, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
Among those who took Jets owner Woody Johnson’s private plane to California on Tuesday was Johnson himself, according to that person. Jets Coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett were also part of the group that traveled to meet with Rodgers.
It was not clear Tuesday night what the Jets would send to the Packers in a trade or whether the deal would be completed. If an agreement is reached with New York, Rodgers will leave the franchise that drafted him in 2005 and with which he earned four league MVP awards and one Super Bowl title over 18 seasons.
The Jets are widely viewed as having an impressive collection of young talent but also being in dire need of a solution at quarterback after Zach Wilson flopped in his second season. They met with Derek Carr last month before the former Las Vegas Raider decided to join the New Orleans Saints in a deal announced Monday.
The Packers seem poised to elevate understudy Jordan Love, a first-round draft choice in 2020, to the starting role if they trade Rodgers. Love has made one start in his three NFL seasons. General Manager Brian Gutekunst said last week at the NFL combine that Love “needs to play.”
The 39-year-old Rodgers made headlines recently by immersing himself in a four-day “darkness retreat” to help him decide whether to retire, stay in Green Bay or go elsewhere in a trade. At the start of this month, he provided an update by saying he would “make a decision soon enough.”
The Raiders are another team that has been mentioned among the possibilities for Rodgers’s next destination, if he indeed leaves Green Bay. Last year, Las Vegas traded for Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, Rodgers’s longtime top target in Green Bay. When New York recently hired Hackett — a former Packers offensive coordinator who in December was fired by Denver before his dismal first season as coach of the Broncos could be completed — it was seen by some as a sign of the Jets’ hopes of landing Rodgers, who has a close relationship with Hackett.
The deliberations involving Rodgers, the Jets and the Packers come ahead of the opening of the free agent market next week, when trades can become official.
If Rodgers does get dealt to the Jets, the scenario would be remarkably similar to what unfolded in 2008, when New York acquired Brett Favre from Green Bay for a conditional fourth-round draft pick. At the time, Favre was the aging star who had been flirting with retirement and Rodgers was the talented understudy — the 24th pick of his draft; Love was selected 26th — who spent three years waiting for his chance.
Now, if Rodgers wants to follow in Favre’s footsteps and join a different team, the Packers again have to be involved because Rodgers is under contract. If he retires, he would forfeit the $59.5 million guaranteed to him for next season under the deal he signed last year. 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.
The potential parting follows a 2022 season in which the Packers struggled as Rodgers was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play. They finished with an 8-9 record and missed the playoffs with a loss to the Detroit Lions in the final game of the season. One of Green Bay’s losses was a 27-10 home defeat at the hands of the Jets, after which Rodgers said of the victors from New York, “They’ve got good schemes, good players.”
Rodgers played through injuries last season and started every game but threw 12 interceptions, the most since his starting debut in 2008, to go with 26 touchdown passes. He had won the previous two MVP awards following the Packers’ selection of Love as his presumed successor.
The No. 2 pick by the Jets in 2021 out of BYU, Wilson played in nine games last season because of injuries and benchings, and his 72.8 passer rating was the lowest among 34 qualified quarterbacks. His 2021 mark of negative-6.1 in completion percentage above expectation (via Next Gen Stats) was the second worst among qualified quarterbacks.
If Rodgers retires, he could be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years in the same class as quarterback Tom Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl winner who announced his retirement for a second straight offseason and said it would be for good this time. That gold-jacketed group also will presumably include three-time defensive player of the year J.J. Watt.
Alternatively, Rodgers may be set to extend his career and emulate Brady’s lead in finding a new team almost two decades into his NFL tenure. Brady left the New England Patriots after 20 seasons and signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. His final Super Bowl triumph came in his first season with the Buccaneers.
The Jets made their only Super Bowl appearance and earned their sole NFL championship in January 1969, behind Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath — who earlier this year gave his blessing for Rodgers to wear his No. 12, which was retired by the Jets in 1985.
Rodgers has 59,055 career passing yards, the ninth most in NFL history, and 475 touchdown passes, the fifth most. His career passer rating of 103.6 is the second highest, behind only the 105.7 of the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes. Rodgers’s four MVP awards are one shy of Peyton Manning’s record. He led the Packers to a Super Bowl triumph in the 2010 season.