The B-Gap: By trading for Aaron Rodgers, Jets would be letting past get the best of them

By Sam Robb O’Hagan

If Aaron Rodgers’ return to civilization from his dystopian darkness retreat is a move to the New York Jets, it would be difficult to argue that the light is again shining on either quarterback or franchise.

Both parties will certainly brand their joining of forces, once a pipe-dream rumor that is now gaining more and more legitimate steam with every passing day, as a necessary and opportunity-bearing glow up. An emergence from the darkness, both would call it, a darkness that each has largely brought upon themselves, of course, but an emergence nonetheless. 

And what is there to say that would stop them from serving the Kool-Aid to an entire base of rabid, quarterback-parched Jets fans?

The Jets haven’t put a star quarterback in uniform since the last time they won a Super Bowl, over 50 years ago by now, a summit of the NFL ladder that only the smallest corner of the fanbase will be old enough to remember. In the half-century since, Chad Pennington, Mark Sanchez, Geno Smith and Zach Wilson, among others, have all come and gone, arriving in New York as saviors and leaving the latest dose of salt in the Jets’ wound.

Rodgers would bring a different kind of hope, obviously, but it would be so, so different. He’d bring with him 10 Pro Bowls, four MVPs, 60,000 career passing yards and an unofficially official ticket to the Hall of Fame. It’s hard to ignore just how much that collection of accolades can glow.

Without hesitation, the fans will drink the Kool-Aid. The Jets know it. Rodgers knows it. We all know it.

But pretending his case of MVP trophies is the only baggage that Rodgers brings with him is, in the most generous possible assessment, blissfully ignorant. He spent the last four years in Green Bay convincing himself that the Packers were somehow consumed in a conspiracy against him.

It is that inexplicable paranoia, presumably, that led him to the “four nights of complete darkness” he willingly completed sometime in the last several weeks, an experience he just admitted owns a profound influence on if and where he plays football next season. You know, just to clear up any doubt that a hypothetical move to the Jets would be made with his unimpeached emotional investment.

Questions about Rodgers’ emotional investment are worthwhile. The disinterest riddled in his on-field body language this past season was tellingly apparent. His attitude’s worst moments, ripe with finger-pointing, swear words under his breath and sassy yanks at his chin-strap were brought about by his worst on-field performances. 

His paranoia didn’t only leak into his post-turnover body language either. Rodgers made a habit of mindlessly chucking up go-balls, the kind of “mistake” with a mountain of existing evidence telling us he knows better. These inexplicable episodes of recklessness routinely cost the Packers, most notably in their season-ending Week 18 loss to the Detroit Lions. Rodgers arm-punted possession to Kirby Joseph, after begging the rookie safety to intercept him all game long, while trailing with only three-and-a-half minutes left to save Green Bay’s season.

Diagnosing the shortsighted deep balls that plagued Rodgers’ season as some kind of on-field protest towards the Packers’ front office would actually be giving him the benefit of the doubt. The alternative explanation implicates Rodgers as a regressing former superstar whose abilities have long fallen behind his ambitions. Pick your poison.

That’s the problem with Rodgers, really. He’s an emotional wild card whose paranoia consistently breaches into delusion, and he didn’t play well last season. To attempt to diagnose the latter as a symptom of the former is almost redundant.

If Rodgers is just too pissed off with the Packers to will any more quality football out of himself in Green Bay, how can the Jets be sure he won’t suddenly turn on their notoriously incompetent franchise too? Beyond their refusal to draft receivers in the first round, the Packers couldn’t have done much more to surround Rodgers with the pieces to be successful. Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s immediate brilliance, the offensive line’s eternal reliability and a rotating room of excellently talented running backs weren’t enough to stop Rodgers from descending into darkness-pining madness.

The Jets don’t have nearly the present stability the Packers do, nor the reputation of stability to sweeten things for Rodgers’ paranoia. At the very least, New York will need to trade their war chest for Rodgers aware that his decision to commit to the Jets — made in large part through revelations from the darkness, remember — can waver at any moment.

And about that war chest. The Denver Broncos’ trade for Russell Wilson last offseason is really the only comparable transaction based on Rodgers’ age and reputation, and he commanded two first-rounders and two second-rounders. Rodgers is older, but his relationship with the Packers appears in greater disarray than Wilson’s was with the Seattle Seahawks. (Matt LaFleur and Brian Gutekunst knew they couldn’t vehemently dismiss trade rumors this week like Pete Carroll and John Schneider did at last year’s combine.)

With that in mind, the Packers’ asking price for Rodgers is likely somewhere around a lone first-rounder and an extra second-rounder. No matter the eventual price, it’s going to be hefty and it’s almost certainly going to include a first-round pick.

Trading all of that to pay Rodgers all of this, with the very real and still existing uncertainty around how and where he even wants to do this anymore, is a lot. Placing the franchise’s immediate future on such an erratic character, with evidence that his turbulent emotions are directly affecting his play, is a lot.

And all of that assumes that Rodgers’ regression last season was a symptom of his irritation. What if it wasn’t? What if he simply doesn’t have what he used to? What those mindless go-balls are conjured from an earnest, genuine belief in Rodgers that he can make those throws? 

If, after all, Rodgers simply regressed in his age-39 season, then functionally, to trade for Rodgers would be to stare at the calamitous results of the Broncos’ trade for Wilson — who started to show signs of regression the season before he was moved — and attempt to do the same thing while expecting different results. The Jets even hired the man who most directly contributed to Wilson’s demise in Denver to be their own offensive coordinator for the 2023 season.

And for what it’s worth, they say that doing the same thing twice and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.