Who should New York Jets pursue: Aaron Rodgers or Derek Carr?
Just nine days ago, I did this same head-to-head exercise with Derek Carr and Lamar Jackson, as they were widely considered the New York Jets’ top two quarterback options at the time. Carr was typically considered the favorite while Jackson was generally considered the second-most likely option.
Much has changed since then. The Baltimore Ravens’ brass came out and vehemently assured the world they expect to keep Jackson, with head coach John Harbaugh claiming he is “200 percent” sure that Jackson will return. Talk is often cheap in the NFL (“The plan is for Jamal to be a Jet for life”) but the Ravens sounded more convinced than most teams do in these situations.
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Then, ESPN’s Adam Schefter came out and reported that an Aaron Rodgers trade is “very realistic”. Soon after, the Jets added a metric ton of fuel to the fire by hiring Rodgers’ former Packers offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, as their own offensive coordinator. Rodgers won two MVPs under Hackett and has a strong relationship with Hackett off the field.
Rodgers is now considered the heavy favorite to be New York’s starting quarterback in 2023. The Jackson talk has mostly fizzled out.
But Carr remains in the mix. Sure, all signs point to Rodgers due to Hackett’s hire. That doesn’t mean Carr is off the table. As we will get into below, there are many areas in which acquiring Carr would be more appealing than acquiring Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers vs. Derek Carr: Who is the better trade target for the New York Jets?
Let’s compare Rodgers and Carr head-to-head in important categories.
Trade assets required
Carr’s 2023 salary ($32.9 million) and a portion of his 2024 salary ($7.5 million) will become guaranteed on February 15. Las Vegas will trade or release Carr before this date to avoid committing guaranteed money to a quarterback who has already publicly stated he expects to move on from the team.
Because of this deadline, the Raiders’ leverage is fairly limited. Teams interested in Carr can wait the Raiders out, forcing them to release him so Carr can be signed on the open market without requiring any trade compensation.
However, if a team really wants Carr, they could use this situation to their advantage by swooping in and trading for Carr at a fairly modest price, beating the competitors to the punch. Las Vegas would surely accept anything they can get for Carr instead of releasing him. Carr does have a no-trade clause, though, so that muddies things up.
It’s difficult to project exactly what will happen to Carr without knowing what his market looks like. However, it seems unlikely he will demand a lucrative trade package in the event he does get traded. My guess is Carr would yield one mid-round draft pick, possibly a third or fourth. If the demand for him is very high, maybe that climbs to one second-round pick.
Rodgers, however, could require a substantial trade package.
Peter King of NBC Sports speculated in a column that Green Bay could ask for at least two first-round picks, although that was just speculation and not an actual report.
Rodgers’ age, 2022 decline, and gaudy contract will hamper his trade value, but this is still Aaron Rodgers we’re talking about. It’s difficult to fathom Green Bay will deal the future Hall-of-Famer for an uninspiring trade package. You have to think Green Bay demands at least one first-round pick, and in my opinion, King’s projection of two first-rounders is not out of the question.
When it comes to the trade compensation required, Carr will very likely be cheaper.
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Rodgers’ contract is the most complex I have seen. Trying to sum it up in one section of an article is a daunting task, so I’d suggest checking out Rivka Boord’s article, which does a great job of breaking down its intricacies.
However the numbers shake out, there’s no denying that Rodgers’ contract is going to be immensely crippling for whichever team takes it on. The contract includes $101 million in full guarantees and much of that is still owed. Somehow, someway, Rodgers is getting that money, and it’s a lot of dough for someone who might not even give you more than one season. At best, he plays two.
The biggest concern with Rodgers’ contract is how it will affect his new team beyond the point when he stops playing. Most likely, Rodgers’ new team will get the benefit of relatively friendly cap hits in 2023 and 2024, but they will be on the hook for massive cap hits in 2025 and 2026 when Rodgers is not expected to be playing. His contract is built in a way where Rodgers is really only committed to playing through 2024 at the latest, but money is still owed to him through 2026. It’s a long-term investment despite only getting a short-term commitment from Rodgers.
Carr is on a team-friendly contract with three years remaining. The acquiring team will commit to a guaranteed $33 million cap hit to carry him in 2023, but after that, the guaranteed money is mostly gone and Carr can be affordably released or traded if things don’t work out. Releasing or trading Carr in the 2024 offseason would incur a dead money charge of only $7.5 million along with $34.5 million in cap savings. Parting ways with him in the 2025 offseason would incur no dead money charge.
If Carr gets released, he will sign a new contract. We don’t know exactly how a new Carr deal would look, but it surely would not be anywhere near as prohibitive as Rodgers’ deal.
The Jets are an up-and-coming team with plenty of cornerstone young players who will be seeking enormous contract extensions in the coming years. Joe Douglas will want to maintain a healthy long-term cap situation to ensure he can keep his core pieces and build a sustained contender that lasts for many years to come. Acquiring Carr is a much better way to achieve this goal than acquiring Rodgers.
Acquiring Rodgers means the Jets must drop their long-term plans and focus all of their assets on building the best team for 2023 and 2024. They will accelerate straight to Super Bowl-or-bust mode. That’s a perfectly fine route to choose – especially if Douglas feels he won’t even be around for the long haul if he cannot lead a successful 2023 season. But if the Jets want to preserve their long-term flexibility and continue pursuing the goal of being competitive throughout the entire decade, Carr is the way to go.
Speed of the acquisition process
We know the Carr saga will move quickly. As previously mentioned, the Raiders will make a decision on Carr by February 15. He will either be released or traded by that date. If Carr is released, he is allowed to immediately begin negotiating with teams. He does not have to wait until the legal tampering period opens on March 13.
The Rodgers saga feels as if it could be one of those drawn-out soap operas that last an entire offseason. Some of the language in his contract indicates the Packers may not be able to realistically trade him until after June 1 unless he agrees to rework the deal. (Key word in there is “may” – there is so much conflicting information out there on his contract and how it works. Nobody seems to be 100% sure about this thing.) If this is true, then the Packers will either wait until then, or they will try to renegotiate with Rodgers, which would also likely take a long time to play out.
The world also has to wait for Rodgers to make a decision on whether he even wants to play football in 2023. Rodgers, being a four-time MVP, will certainly not feel the need to rush his decision so he can make it to voluntary workouts or OTAs – especially with Hackett as the Jets’ OC. Rodgers is talented enough and familiar enough with the Jets’ scheme to pop in whatever he wants and get ready for the season in a hurry.
Knowing what we know about Rodgers’ personality, he absolutely seems like the type of guy who might wait until training camp to make his decision and then just show up to practice one day a few weeks before the season.
It was a much different situation, but back in 2008, the Jets did not acquire Brett Favre until August 7. For different reasons, I could see a Rodgers trade taking that long, too.
If the Jets pass on Carr to pursue Rodgers, they are taking an enormous risk. Nobody knows how long the Rodgers saga could last. It could take all offseason, and even then, there is no guarantee the Jets land him. What if the Jets pass on Carr and all of the other quarterback options to pursue Rodgers, and then he pulls the rug out from underneath them by retiring or going back to Green Bay?
The Jets cannot afford to take that risk. If they want to pursue Rodgers, they need to be one-hundred percent sure he is theirs. It would be an unmitigated disaster if the Jets struck out on Rodgers and went into the preseason with their quarterback room being headlined by Zach Wilson and a fringe starter like Mike White or a free agent such as Gardner Minshew.
Plus, the Jets are bringing in a new offensive coaching staff as they head into a season that many consider to be playoffs-or-bust. In a situation like this, shouldn’t they want their new starting quarterback to get in the facility as early as possible so everyone can start getting on the same page? I know Rodgers has familiarity with Hackett, but it surely wouldn’t hurt to have the new quarterback building chemistry with his teammates for a full offseason rather than just a month or two.
Not only would striking early with Carr remove a great deal of risk, but it would also add a significant amount of clarity to the Jets’ offseason plan.
By adding Carr in February, the Jets can enter March with a clear picture of their cap situation. They will know exactly how much money they have to spend and how many cuts or restructures they will have to make to create the amount of space they would like to have. But if the Jets go after Rodgers, they will not have any of this valuable information. Their cap situation will be a mystery. Should we keep space open for Rodgers? Should we add players now and not worry about Rodgers unless we get him? It would be a mess.
Additionally, with the new quarterback already confirmed in February, the Jets can enter free agency and the draft knowing what kind of offensive players they should acquire to complement the quarterback’s skill set. Again, the Jets would not get this benefit if they enter March and April without a starting quarterback on their roster.
Carr’s situation is much less complex than Rodgers’. We know how things are going to go down with Carr. More importantly, things are going to happen quickly with Carr, which would greatly benefit the Jets in their particular situation.
Carr will be 32 years old in March. As previously mentioned, he still has three years remaining on his current deal.
Carr could probably be trusted to give you three more years of his peak play, at the very least. Four or five years is not out of the question. He is still young enough to have plenty of years left in his tank.
Rodgers is knocking on retirement’s door. You are getting no more than two years out of him, and you might even be lucky to get the second one. If the Jets trade for Rodgers, they drop all of their long-term plans and focus on winning a Super Bowl now.
Carr is the better option if New York is looking to preserve its chances of achieving long-term prosperity.
Super Bowl chances in 2023-24
Everything has been pro-Carr to this point. Now it’s time to focus on the one enormously important category that fully drives Rodgers’ appeal: the chance to win a Super Bowl immediately.
Rodgers is tougher to acquire because he is a significantly better quarterback. It’s that simple. Rodgers raises your team’s ceiling far more than Carr does.
The mere possibility of the Jets getting Rodgers has the football world believing New York could be a real contender in 2023.
After hiring Hackett, the Jets’ 2023-24 Super Bowl odds at DraftKings Sportsbook improved to +3000, ranking eighth-best in the league. That shift is obviously due to the presumption that Hackett’s arrival means New York will likely land Rodgers. If that presumption becomes a reality, the Jets’ odds will improve even further.
The bottom line is that Rodgers would give the Jets a very real chance at winning a Super Bowl in 2023, and hopefully 2024 as well. Pair Rodgers with the Jets’ top-5 defense and tantalizing collection of offensive weapons, and you have one of the Jets’ best on-paper squads in team history.
Run through the Jets’ 2022 schedule and picture what Aaron Rodgers could have done for them – even if it’s a slightly declined version of Rodgers. Does Rodgers win both of those Patriots games? Easily. Does he win the Week 18 Dolphins game? With his eyes closed.
That’s three easy wins right there, pushing the Jets from 7-10 to 10-7 without much of a sweat. You could also argue Rodgers would have flipped the Jets’ one-score losses against Minnesota, Buffalo, and Detroit, potentially putting them up to 13-4.
And that is with Breece Hall and Alijah Vera-Tucker missing every one of those aforementioned games.
With Carr, the Jets could still be a good team (even Carr probably would have flipped those same aforementioned games), but their odds of becoming a legitimate championship contender would not be nearly as high as they would be with an all-time great quarterback like Rodgers. It could still happen, but the man hasn’t even won a playoff game yet, so it’s an ambitious vision. Picturing Rodgers leading the Jets to glory is much more feasible.
The Jets have missed the playoffs 12 seasons in a row. Now, they are staring at the possibility of entering a season as a top-eight Super Bowl contender under the guidance of a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback who is just one season removed from winning back-to-back MVPs.
That’s incredibly enticing – even when considering the risks.
Rodgers gives the Jets a much higher ceiling than Carr. The floor is undoubtedly lower, but if the goal is to win a title within the next two years, you accept the risks and go after Rodgers.
Something that concerns me about Rodgers is his level of commitment. If Rodgers came to the Jets, would he be doing it with a burning desire to exact vengeance on the critics and ride off into the sunset with that elusive second Lombardi? Or would he be doing it to ensure he squeezes out all of that remaining guaranteed money?
If the Jets get Rodgers, they need to be sure he remains fully committed to winning a championship. Rodgers has already won a title and four MVPs while breaking numerous records and raking in plenty of money. As he nears 40 years old, it’s not hard to imagine that his competitive hunger is dwindling.
Carr, on the other hand, will have an immense chip on his shoulder. He will be seeking to prove he is a championship-caliber quarterback who was hamstrung by the Raiders’ inability to put a complete team around him and hire a competent coaching staff.
Two years ago, Matthew Stafford exited Detroit under the exact same circumstances Carr is facing – a long-standing solid quarterback who never got a playoff win with the franchise that drafted him, more so due to the team around him than his own shortcomings. Stafford then won a Super Bowl with the Rams in his first season. (Yes, I know the Rams were a more firmly established contender than the Jets currently are – I’m just comparing the two quarterbacks’ situations and the intense competitive fire that comes along with it.)
Carr has everything to prove. Mindset-wise, he is the perfect match for these Jets, who are determined to flip the narratives that surround them.
Will Rodgers be all-in?
This one doesn’t need much explanation. Prior to 2022, Rodgers was better than Carr in nearly every area on a yearly basis. Rodgers has been a consistent top 3-5 quarterback for most of his career while Carr usually settles somewhere in the top 12-16 range, sometimes going a bit higher or lower than that.
Rodgers is the better quarterback by a wide margin when looking at the entire careers of both players.
The more interesting comparison is how these quarterbacks performed in 2022.
Rodgers had one of his worst seasons in the NFL. It’s a concerning sign as he approaches 40 years old in December.
Carr had a down year in his first season under head coach Josh McDaniels.
Here is a look at where Rodgers and Carr ranked in various categories in 2022 (ranks out of 33 qualified quarterbacks):
- Passer rating: Rodgers, 91.1 (15th) – Carr, 86.3 (24th)
- QBR: Rodgers, 39.3 (27th) – Carr, 55.6 (13th)
- EPA/dropback: Rodgers, -0.07 (23rd) – Carr, 0.01 (11th)
- DVOA: Rodgers, 0.3% (21st) – Carr, 2.1% (19th)
Rodgers took the edge in traditional passer rating, but Carr outperformed Rodgers in each of the three advanced metrics.
Overall, Carr averaged an overall ranking of 16.8 out of these four metrics while Rodgers’ average ranking was 21.5.
Carr had better weapons than Rodgers, including Rodgers’ former No. 1 target, Davante Adams. Rodgers was throwing to a very young group of receivers that struggled for most of the year, save for Christian Watson’s breakout in the latter half. It’s worth noting that two of Carr’s best weapons, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, combined to miss 15 games, so Carr was working with a depleted lineup for much of the year. Still, he did get 17 games of Adams, and that alone puts his weaponry over Rodgers’.
However, Rodgers had a much better offensive line. The Packers’ offensive line ranked third-best in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric (per-snap pressure rate allowed, giving greater weight to sacks allowed). The Raiders’ offensive line ranked 27th.
Rodgers was also presented with better field position than Carr. The Packers’ offense ranked sixth-best in average starting field position while the Raiders’ offense ranked 28th.
The coaching edge goes to Rodgers, too. Give me Matt LaFleur over Josh McDaniels any day.
When you piece it all together, it appears Rodgers had better support than Carr. Despite this, Carr’s numbers were better.
All things considered, it seems like Carr had a slightly better season than Rodgers. This certainly does not guarantee that Carr will be the better quarterback going forward, but it’s interesting to note.
I think Carr would be a strong fit in Nathaniel Hackett’s west coast offense, but Rodgers has already proven that he plays his best football under Hackett, so Rodgers clearly gets the edge here.
Fit for New York market
In terms of handling the New York market, I think both quarterbacks have question marks. Carr has been labeled “sensitive” in the past and has sometimes been in the middle of social media drama. His dealings with the Oakland and Las Vegas media have been testy at times.
Everyone is familiar with Rodgers’ personality. Having him in New York would surely be quite entertaining. Even in the NFL’s smallest media market, Rodgers is arguably the most scrutinized player in the league, so just imagine how things would go if he came to The Big Apple.
I’d say the media stuff is a wash. Rodgers would attract an immense amount of attention that could be somewhat distracting, but he has proven he can handle the noise. Carr would not bring nearly the same spotlight but I do wonder how he will handle the bloodthirsty New York reporters.
The area where Rodgers has a clear advantage is his ability to play in cold-weather games. Rodgers has thrived his entire career in the NFL’s coldest environment while Carr has played his entire career in Oakland or in a dome.
Carr has a poor track record in cold-weather games. In 10 career games that were played in 40 degrees or colder, Carr has a 3-7 record with 11 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, 5.6 yards per attempt, a 57% completion rate, and a 69.2 passer rating.
Granted, it’s a small sample size, and in fairness to Carr, 7 of the 10 games were against a team that finished the season with a winning record. Furthermore, 9 of the 10 games were against a team that finished top-16 in scoring defense. Because of these factors, I would take Carr’s cold-weather stats with a grain of salt, but they are worth keeping in mind.
Considering his cold-weather experience and his ample experience handling the spotlight, I think Rodgers is better suited to take on the New York (erm, Florham Park) stage.
Here is our scorecard:
- Trade assets required: Carr
- Contract/cap space: Carr
- Speed of acquisition: Carr
- Longevity: Carr
- 2023-24 Super Bowl chances: Rodgers
- Competitive drive: Carr
- Pre-2022 performance: Rodgers
- 2022 performance: Carr
- Scheme fit: Rodgers
- Fit for New York market: Rodgers
What do you think, Jets fans? If you had to choose one of the two, would you rather see the Jets swing for the fences with Aaron Rodgers or play it safe with Derek Carr?
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