The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Aaron Rodgers with the New York Jets? What could possibly go wrong?

Aaron Rodgers said he intends to play the 2023 season with the New York Jets. (Morry Gash/AP)
6 min

Out of the darkness, Aaron Rodgers is now inviting a new team into his “sanctuary of solace.”

In other words, the famed nonconformist is about to end the shenanigans and play for the New York Jets. Rodgers can describe it however he wants, but the franchise he “intends” to play for next season is still the Jets, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2010. It sounds mystical to retreat from light, ruminate about an inevitable outcome and reveal vague details of a California meeting with a team desperate for quarterback star power. But Rodgers, a great player with diminishing reliability, is headed to a team where good intentions go to die.

For all the excitement Rodgers will generate once the Green Bay Packers approve a trade and divorce their four-time MVP, his arrival in New York will neither provide refuge from dysfunction nor offer long-standing solace for a talented young team looking for a quick fix.

During a Wednesday interview on “The Pat McAfee Show,” Rodgers used the term “sanctuary of solace” to keep private the specific details of his potential alliance with the Jets. But their actions already this offseason — which include hiring former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, signing former Green Bay wide receiver Allen Lazard and reportedly considering a list of the quarterback’s personnel preferences — come as close to an oath of fealty as a star player can receive from an NFL franchise. Consider it the first troubling sign.

Aaron Rodgers, still a Packer, says his ‘intention’ is to play for the Jets

Any relationship with Rodgers that begins with fear of telling him no is one doomed to be tested again and again until mass exasperation sets in. It’s understandable why the Jets would go on a persuasive charm offensive to make Rodgers want to play for them, but they need to establish an equal partnership. They’re off to a dubious start.

Rodgers needs freedom, but he must have guardrails. He requires a little coddling, but he can be coached hard and convinced to respect a team-building philosophy if an organization has a sound approach. Have the Jets reached that level of competence?

In two seasons, Coach Robert Saleh has shown promise. In nearly four years as the general manager, Joe Douglas has countered his misses with enough high-profile hits to create a team that has multiple coveted, high-end players, a defensive identity that fits Saleh’s strengths and good momentum — if they acquire a quarterback who can play. Zach Wilson, the second overall pick of the 2021 draft, has been a disappointment with his shaky performance and bad temperament. Now they’re holding their breath during negotiations with Green Bay and hoping that Rodgers, at 39, still has the gas left to help them overcome the roster misalignment they’re about to create on a team whose most gifted players, cornerback Sauce Gardner and wide receiver Garrett Wilson, are 17 years younger than their would-be quarterback.

It’s tricky dealing with Rodgers, who sometimes spurns accountability by expressing frustration over the mistakes of inexperienced players. Because of Green Bay’s consistency, Rodgers hasn’t played with as many high draft picks as the Jets have. But he will still be left to answer for inconsistency, and if he plays the blame game, there could be more egos to soothe in this locker room.

This is all such a weird historic redundancy: Fifteen years after the Packers dealt a graying and discontented Brett Favre to the Jets, they’re on the verge of trading the superstar who succeeded him to the same place.

When legendary Green Bay quarterbacks get ornery and shrug off their ambiguous retirement plans, they escape to New York. It’s officially a trend. Diva deja vu.

On Wednesday, Rodgers said goodbye to Green Bay while also making a strong “Hey, don’t blame me!” declaration.

“I f---ing love that city,” Rodgers said during the McAfee interview. “I love that organization and am always going to have love for that organization. The facts are right now they want to move on, and now so do I.”

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Of course, it’s more complicated than that. Rodgers can make talking about the weather complicated. While Green Bay has been preparing to move on since it drafted Jordan Love three years ago, Rodgers is not the victim of cutthroat NFL business. He has been distancing himself from the only franchise he has known — and from reality, for that matter — for several seasons.

But Rodgers and the Packers experienced a revival that delayed their breakup, with the quarterback adding two more MVPs to his résumé in 2020 and 2021. Overall, Rodgers played some of his best football for Coach Matt LaFleur, leading Green Bay to back-to-back NFC title games in 2019 and 2020.

Then, after trading Davante Adams to the Las Vegas Raiders and failing to replenish the receiving corps, the Packers regressed, sliding to an 8-9 record and losing to the Detroit Lions in the regular season finale, which cost them a playoff berth.

As Rodgers spoke afterward, he hinted about the end of his run.

“Doesn’t always end with rainbows for everyone,” he said that January night.

With the Jets, it will begin with rainbows. Or it will at the conclusion of this period of angst. Rodgers made the entire NFL wait through the start of free agency to have his predictable moment of clarity. Now the Jets just have to haggle over compensation to go down a road that owner Woody Johnson has traveled before.

In 2008, Favre came out of a five-month retirement — a.k.a. a disgruntled offseason — and the Packers traded him to New York. He was about to turn 39. The Jets rejoiced over acquiring their missing quarterback piece, and Favre led them to an 8-3 start. They lost four of their last five games, missed the playoffs, and Favre ended up leading the NFL with 22 interceptions. And that was that.

The next season, Favre went to Minnesota and enjoyed one last dominant season. He was motivated by his failures the previous year, but the turnaround also underscored how ill-equipped the Jets were to minimize his flaws and bring out the best of what he had left.

You must wonder whether Johnson learned anything from that debacle. The rest of the brain trust hasn’t had to handle such a high-profile, high-ceiling and highly combustible acquisition in a market that will magnify all blemishes. Johnson is dreaming of possibilities once again, but he may have forgotten about the pitfalls.

Before his darkness retreat, Rodgers said he was 90 percent certain he would retire. Now he wants to be a Jet.

It will be wonderful next season, or it will be a disaster. Even if it’s wonderful for one season, it won’t end with rainbows if it lasts beyond that.

Today, the Jets look like a team with a future. But in Rodgers’s sanctuary of solace, only the present will matter. And he can turn out the lights at any time.