Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love can change their narratives with fresh starts
Fifteen years after the Packers traded their future Hall of Fame QB to the Jets, Aaron Rodgers appears ready to take his talents to New York for the next chapter of his NFL career.
Aaron Rodgers dreamed of going out like John Elway: on top, hoisting a Super Bowl trophy in his hands, knowing he had nothing else to accomplish and little else to prove.
Instead, the latest reporting suggests Rodgers’ career in Green Bay will end like his predecessor Brett Favre: pushed to the New York Jets while a young upstart waits in the wings.
It’s a story worthy of the bright lights of Broadway where Rodgers will look to prove he can still lead a team to glory, while the Packers face the reality of moving on from yet another Hall of Fame quarterback. What better place to write a story’s ending than the city where dreams are made?
For Rodgers, the appeal of the Jets situation -- an offensive coordinator he already loves in Nathaniel Hackett and a defensive-minded head coach who he loved to hate playing in Robert Saleh -- allows him to answer an important question: What would it have looked like if Rodgers had a great defense to go along with a handful of game-breaking weapons?
The Jets finished last season fifth in defensive DVOA, and third in weighted DVOA even without terrific edge rusher Carl Lawson. They bring back the core of that defense with rising star Quinnen Williams and Defensive Rookie of the Year Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner who burned his cheesehead in effigy on a live stream. It happened to be the same cheesehead he used to mock the Packers after the 2022 Jets pounded the Packers at Lambeau 27-10.
They may be a desperate organization led by an owner desperately searching for a star quarterback, a player the Jets haven’t had since Joe Namath left to finish his career with the Los Angeles Rams. That long wait helps explain why Broadway Joe said earlier this offseason he’d allow Rodgers to wear No. 12, the number New York retired in his honor.
Rodgers would join Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford as the latest quarterbacks to join “just a quarterback away” situations. Brady and Stafford won Super Bowls in Year 1. No pressure.
And for all the accolades Rodgers has earned -- the MVPs, All-Pro nods, and efficiency records -- pressure bested him the last few seasons. His play drove many of the playoff failures and last year’s slumping season, including and especially in the final game of the year when the offense couldn’t even get to 20 points at home against the worst defense in football.
The four-time MVP famously hates narratives, feigning ignorance of their existence while calling them out specifically. He knows what trials await, but he also knows the opportunity to rewrite them.
After years of fans clamoring for more weapons, Rodgers insisted his guys come with him to New York. As of this writing, Allen Lazard has reportedly agreed to a four-year, $44 million deal. It’s worth noting this comes one year after his old running mate Marquez Valdes-Scantling signed for three years and $30 million with the eventual Super Bowl-champion Kansas City Chiefs. Reports throughout Tuesday put Randall Cobb and Marcedes Lewis on the Jets’ menu as part of a wishlist as ESPN’s Diana Russini called it.
The irony in leaving Green Bay only to bring a group of weapons Rodgers openly maligned along with fans and media drips like an air conditioner in a Manhattan summer. That said, Rodgers recruited those players to join 2022 rookie phenoms Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall even if that bears a remarkable resemblance to the type of offensive structures he had in ‘20 and ‘21.
During the 2021 playoffs, the Packers defense stifled the San Francisco 49ers. But San Francisco’s defense, then led by Saleh, beguiled Rodgers and Co. who managed just 10 points at home as the No. 1 overall seed. That was truly the first time since at least 2014 that Green Bay’s season ended primarily due to a lack of offense than the defensive failures that perpetually marked playoff exits under Mike McCarthy in particular. Somewhere, Raheem Mostert and Colin Kaepernick just scored again.
That’s the legacy Rodgers will seek to undo in New York. Does he have enough magic left in his right arm to lead a team to Lombardi land if the defense does its job and the special-teams units don’t wet themselves? Not to torture the Broadway metaphor, but Rodgers auditioned for a GM position before he even had the starring role with the Jets, bringing his guys along for the ride. If he fails again, it will be on him.
Sure, Saleh and Joe Douglas likely lose their jobs too if things go south, but they haven’t already built the legacy Rodgers boasts. They don’t have the same pelts on the wall. This will be on him, which is exactly the way he wants it.
And the Packers are more than happy to see to it he gets what he wants. The degree to which their frustration with Rodgers drove their decision to transition toward Jordan Love won’t ever fully be known, but general manager Brian Gutekunst dropped plenty of hints this spring by failing to ever provide a full-throated endorsement for Rodgers. Team president Mark Murphy let slip their desire to trade Rodgers.
Two of the longest-tenured Packers beat writers, Tom Silverstein and Bob McGinn, insisted for weeks that Rodgers’ exit was driven by the organization rather than the quarterback. They were ready to make the same decision that allowed Rodgers to write his own name in the history books. They have faith in Love, now holding the role Rodgers played 15 years earlier, to take the reins on offense.
Even with the incredible career Rodgers put together following Favre, Love faces far less pressure than Rodgers. That 2007 team won 13 games and was a Favre interception away from the Super Bowl when the transition occurred. Rodgers walks away from a disappointing 8-9 squad battered by injury and indifference. Plus, the Packers can’t possibly have done it again right? Following one multi-MVP winner with another was unlikely enough. They’d never do it … again.
It’s all upside for Love. Fittingly, that was the same sell for the Packers when drafting him. He has the physical tools to be one of the league’s very best and over the last year showed enormous leaps in consistency and in the mental parts of the game. Fans rejected the Love pick in near-unanimous fashion. If he plays league-average football, he will win admirers to his side.
There will be time to litigate the accomplishments and failures of the Rodgers era in Green Bay. For years, opposing fans have used Rodgers’ lack of hardware as a cudgel to insist the last 30 years between him and Brett Favre were mostly a waste of time. But for those of us who watched this duo on the field, for whatever failings they had off of it, we wouldn’t trade it (speaking of irony).
Their brilliance amazed us. Their shortcomings confounded us precisely because of that brilliance. If Love can take Packers fans on that same kind of journey and it “only” results in one Super Bowl, opposing fans will call it a failure. Cheeseheads will call it a damn good time, drinking old fashioneds when they win and old fashioneds when they lose.
The agonizingly drawn-out process of this offseason slams into focus the guile it took the Packers to win a staring contest with Favre, insisting they had the next guy waiting in the wings. Fifteen years later, the franchise refused to blink in the face of Rodgers’ performance of Hamlet. To be or not to be … now that’s a Jordan Love question.