In a short time on Thursday, Aaron Rodgers and the Jets showed everyone what rejuvenation looks like.
After some eventful opening series on the Jets’ first day of training camp scrimmage, Rodgers threw the ball with a quick out route to second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson. Wilson pulled in the pass and briefly stumbled, but then energetically ran up the sideline for the goal and was cheered by his ebullient teammates.
It was the kind of offensive dynamism the Jets sorely missed over the years as they struggled to find a long-term answer to the most important position in the game: quarterback. He brought in Brett Favre in 2008, but failed to make the playoffs and his subsequent early draft picks yielded mixed results.
But the addition of four-time MVP Rodgers has brought an unprecedented level of excitement around a team that has been synonymous with incompetence for more than a decade, as well as heightened expectations for this season.
“There’s a lot of positive vibes here, and I think that’s a good thing,” Rodgers said after practice.
After lengthy negotiations, the Jets agreed to acquire Rodgers in a trade with the Green Bay Packers on April 24, giving the team a level of flair to keep up with. The league expects the Jets to play five prime-time games this season, up from one in 2022, including a game against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football in Week 1. The camera crew for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” documentary series will follow the team throughout the season, and the Jets will headline the NFL’s first Black Friday game on Amazon.
The level of attention is far from what was expected before last season. The Jets got off to an amazing 6-3 start by pulling away from a top defense before the quarterback’s erratic play let down his newfound hopes. Zack Wilson, the 2021 No. 2 overall pick, replaced backup quarterback Mike White on the bench, and the team finished the season with a 1-7 record.
By bringing in Rodgers, the Jets tried to help rebuild the organization. The team has nurtured young talent, including offensive and defensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner.
“When you have so many great players on rookie deals, it’s very exciting to know that you have enough chances to do something,” Rodgers said. “It’s not just one year that allows us to be competitive. It’s fun.”
As players reported their camp on Wednesday, some talked about making the Super Bowl, a lofty goal for a franchise that last made the postseason in 2010.
“Bringing a guy like him into this building generally just excites people because his background, his character, the guy that he is, he brings brilliance to everyone,” said defense tackle Quinen Williams, who said he had already posed questions to Rodgers about the best defensive player he’s ever faced.
But even with Rodgers in, there’s room for optimism.
Rogers, who turns 40 in December, faces football’s age limit. Aside from Tom Brady, few quarterbacks have excelled at that stage of his career. And after winning back-to-back MVP awards in 2020 and 2021, Rodgers had the worst season of his career as a full-time starter, recording the second-highest interception totals and lowest quarterback rating since 2008.
Rodgers brought more than a Hall of Fame resume to the Jets. He drew criticism after testing positive for coronavirus in 2021, denouncing the league’s coronavirus vaccination policy. Despite claiming to have been “vaccinated” for the virus before the season, Rodgers was fined for attending a Halloween party and violating the league’s COVID-19 protocols for unvaccinated players.
The end of Rodgers’ Green Bay term was also marred by altercations with coaches and team management over roster and play-calling decisions, as well as public criticism of the Packers’ young receiver.
He said he is happy with his new team so far.
“There’s a lot of fun going on in my life at this time and I’m just enjoying every minute,” he said Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Jets appear to have tried to build a team in Rodgers’ image. They have Garrett Wilson. He’s the explosive young wide receiver Rodgers lamented not being in Green Bay. They recruited some of Rodgers’ friends and former Packers teammates, including receivers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard and offensive lineman Billy Turner, and hired Nathaniel Hackett, who was Rodgers’ offensive coordinator from 2019 to 2021, in the same role.
Lazard, who played five seasons with Rodgers in Green Bay before signing with the Jets in March, acknowledged that “the Aaron Rodgers offense” could be a learning curve and thinks it can help some of the team’s younger receivers.
“Every time he’s on the field, all the strategies are open,” Lazard said of Rodgers. “Even on the first day of practice, he might signal or do something we haven’t talked about.”
It’s certainly not what the Jets are used to.