The Jets’ Aaron Rodgers deal resembles that of Brett Favre’s in (former employer) name only.
Don’t take a shot every time you see a tweet suggesting that the New York Jets go after Jordan Love in the year 2038. Also resist such a drinking game if you any sort of reminder of the fabled yet failed 2008 Jets campaign, reminders of “Brett the Jet” or decisions to break No. 4 jerseys out of retirement.
Fail to heed these warnings and you probably won’t be sober enough to enjoy whatever Aaron Rodgers has in store for the team come this fall.
The Rodgers dream, first conjured by the quarterback himself during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” six weeks prior, was realized this week when the Jets and Green Bay Packers finally agreed to terms on a deal just in time for the NFL draft’s premier in Kansas City on Thursday night. Thanks to a volatile mix of nostalgia, coincidence, and the football-loving public treating every metropolitan gridiron mishap as a guaranteed laugh, the deal has inevitably drawn comparisons to the summer of 2008, which saw the Jets bring in fellow Lambeau Field legend Brett Favre to kick off one of the most simultaneously entertaining and heartbreaking seasons in professional football history.
The continued fascination made it to Rodgers’ first public statements as a member of the Jets, during which he was queried about following in Favre’s footsteps.
“It’s very ironic that our paths have kind of taken another step in the same direction,” Rodgers remarked. “Brett and I, over the years, had talked about this transition and what it was like, but that was a different coaching staff, different GM, different circumstances. I’m excited about the opportunity to work with these guys and my new teammates, this coaching staff, but nice pictures there, good job. We haven’t talked specifically about this opportunity.”
The workman-like answer, efficient as it may be, will likely do little to stem the tide of Favre reminders, at least until Rodgers earns the long-awaited, playoff-clinching “x” next to the Jets’ name in the standings. A look beyond the memes, comparisons, and desperation for a farcical green sequel shows that, beyond the dance partners, this Rodgers deal is a new song entirely.
No Hanging Chad
Chad Pennington holds one of the most complicated and polarizing legacies in the history of the Jets and perhaps the NFL entirely. Going purely by box scores, Pennington still stands as one of the more efficient quarterbacks of the new century, currently ranking 11th all-time in completion percentage (66 percent, which was the best in NFL history upon his 2010 departure) and 28th in passer rating (90.1). Modern lenses, however, tend to focus on Pennington’s myriad of injuries and his membership in “The Brady Six,” the cursed brotherhood of passers chosen before Tom Brady in the 2000 draft.
No matter what one thinks of Pennington’s Jets career, he probably deserved a more dignified exit than to be a non-playable character in the Favre drama, his departure heralded by fans flat-out chanting “Get Brett” during one of their final training camp sessions at Hofstra. Rather than trade Pennington, the Jets partly rectified the situation by releasing rather than trading him, allowing him to pick his own comeback path. True to the Jets’ star-crossed nature, that good deed didn’t go unpunished: Pennington himself ended the Favre era by guiding his new Miami Dolphin employers to an AFC East division title with a Week 17 win at The Meadowlands.
Whereas the Favre trade’s controversy partly centered on whether Pennington had anything left in the tank – and his 2008 Comeback Player of the Year campaign proved he certainly did – Rodgers enters a situation where he’s undoubtedly the best man for the job.
The fact that incumbent Zach Wilson had to resort to indirectly vowing to make Rodgers’ life a “living hell” tells you all you need to know about his metropolitan future. Unlike Pennington, Wilson has never resembled a long-term franchise quarterback and it’s clear that the best chance of making any impact in the tri-state area will come if/when the USFL’s New Jersey Generals finally play a game within Garden State borders.
At worst, the Jets go into the season ever so slightly regretting the departure of Mike White, who likewise fled to Miami after alternating between exhilarating substitute showings and injured reserve visits.
All Part of the Plan
The Jets bringing Favre to Florham Park was a marriage of convenience of sorts, perhaps even a Vegas-style wedding with how quickly it transpired. The trade, completed mere hours before the Jets partook in their first preseason game, was an improvised way for a historically downtrodden franchise to shake things up. If it resolved the Packers’ divorce from Favre and stole a few metropolitan back page headlines from the defending champion Giants, even better.
The spur-of-the-moment deal had lasting consequences. Favre left the Jets after one year, forcing the team to use a primary draft pick on Mark Sanchez less than a year later (trading up with Cleveland to do so). While Sanchez was part of consecutive conference title game visits (one of which narrowly missed a Super Bowl get-together with a Minnesota-bound Favre), it indirectly set the tone for the team’s enduring playoff drought that’s now tied for the longest among “big four” North American professional sports teams.
In contrast, the Rodgers trade was a calculated effort of patience. The Philadelphia 76ers perhaps killed off any meaning the word had left in the athletic field’s transactional department, but the Jets followed a process that eventually landed the man they were looking for, a thrower that, for all his idiosyncrasies, has proven more than capable of winning big games.
There’s no established starting point – though those who pointed out Rodgers’ smiles during a 2021 joint practice with New York certainly feel vindicated – but the Jets not only honed in on wooing Rodgers and his Midwestern handlers but making sure the cabinet was well-stocked with familiarity (i.e. Nathaniel Hackett, Allen Lazard) in addition to the expected young weaponry (Garrett Wilson) by the time he finally made to Jersey.
The Favre trade was a fling. Landing Rodgers was a commitment.
The aftershocks of the Favre trade partly made up the early portions of the Jets’ postseason futility – or lack thereof, considering they haven’t been.
Picking up the pieces after the Favre debacle limited the Jets to a mere three selections in the 2009 draft, which saw the team pass on defensive studs like B.J. Raji, Brian Orakpo, and Malcolm Jenkins. One of the picks sent away in the Favre trade was later dealt to New England, who used it on multi-threat talent Brandon Tate. Though unrelated to the Favre deal, it didn’t help that another trade, the Jonathan Vilma barter with New Orleans, helped Detroit land future All-Pro DeAndre Levy in the 76th slot originally meant for the Jets.
This time around, shrewd dealing from general Joe Douglas and Co., both in the early stages of this offseason and ones that came before it, allowed the Jets to fully focus and engage on the “quarterback away” problem. For all the talk and speculation about the Jets being annoyed with what Green Bay was asking for when it came to Rodgers’ services, the harshest penalty they’re currently facing is moving two picks down in the ongoing draft in Kansas City this week.
Perhaps a narrative can be formed around the idea of Bill Belichick toying with the Jets again after his New England Patriots dealt the 14th pick to Pittsburgh so they could take green blocking target Broderick Jones, but if the consolation prize is Iowa State stud Will McDonald, who can only add to the horror of the Jets’ already-formidable pass rush, that’s something they can live with (provided McDonald lives up to his potential, of course).
Back when Favre’s “will he, won’t he” drama dominated the airwaves (and perhaps stood as one of the final major NFL transactions without social media’s amplification), the Jets were throwing things at the wall, trying to make it stick. Though they paid big money to bolster the offensive line (i.e. Alan Faneca, Damien Woody) they couldn’t splurge on any of the big-name skill players because they were hardly “one move away” from contention.
Adding a historic, if not aging, talent like Favre helped bring out the best in some players but there was a reason that most of his top targets that year either didn’t last much longer in New York (Laveranues Coles) or took on a smaller role in the team’s brief glory days (Jerricho Cotchery).
Douglas’ moves are a stark contrast to his first full offseason at the helm in 2020, when he was unable to do anything about the Sam Darnold situation at quarterback because there were so many other holes to plug. Loading up on young talents like Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall (and of course Sauce Gardner on defense) that guided the team to seven wins despite anemic quarterback play and offensive injuries and shortcomings (fare thee well, Braxton Berrios and Elijah Moore) hints at not only excitement but long-sought sustainability.
Rodgers outright admitted that Douglas’ dealing inspired him to verbally commit to the Jets.
“Joe has a great track record so far of drafting some incredible players, but it takes a system and obviously Robert has the right sauce, so I’m excited about getting to work with him and (defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich), and (safeties coach) Marquand (Manuel), a former teammate of mine.”
“It’s a great staff. I’m an old guy, so I want to be part of a team that can win it all. I believe that this is a place we can get that done.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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