It’s going to be an interesting couple of days at the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, where you’ll at least have everyone in one place, which could help in one particular situation.
This is a big week on the Aaron Rodgers front. Among those slated to be staying in the same hotel for the next 48 hours or so: Packers president Mark Murphy, GM Brian Gutekunst and coach Matt LaFleur, and Jets owner Woody Johnson, GM Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh.
Which is significant.
It’s been nearly two weeks since Rodgers went on The Pat McAfee Show to declare his intent to be a Jet. That was, of course, the biggest piece of news from the hour Rodgers spent on the program. But for those actually involved in the negotiation, what’s reverberated most is the way the quarterback laid waste to the organization he’s played for over the past 18 years.
He criticized, again, the way the Packers offload older players, explaining in detail the problem he had with Green Bay’s handling of this particular situation. He never mentioned Murphy or Gutekunst or LaFleur by name, leaving a lot open to interpretation on who did what to make Rodgers feel this way. In a way, it was a lot like Rodgers’s hyperaggressive press conference in 2021, when he showed up at camp and spilled the beans on, well, everything and everyone without notice before making off to win another MVP.
Because of all of that, I think there was always going to be a cooling-off period.
And it’s not like all of this is Jets vs. Packers, anyway. It’s way more Rodgers vs. the Packers. LaFleur and Saleh are still best of friends, who go all the way back to the start of both guys’ coaching careers. Douglas and Gutekunst have had a good rapport from their time together as road scouts. This isn’t impossible.
That said, if the Jets want to get this deal done soon, there are two things that I think would get it across the finish line: One, I think Rodgers appealing directly to the Packers for a clean exit, and not publicly, wouldn’t hurt. Two, I think resulting flexibility on Green Bay’s part, and some flexibility to think beyond the 13th pick in the draft, would also work to push the process along because, in the end, those guys don’t want an ugly conclusion to this any more than Rodgers does.
Right now, I’d maintain Green Bay holds the cards, mostly because they really don’t have to do anything between now and Sept. 1, the point at which they’d have to exercise Rodgers’s fully guaranteed $58.1 million option bonus for 2023, and start the clock on paying it. The Jets, on the other hand, are in a spot where Douglas and Saleh have to come away with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
Regardless of how you weigh that, it doesn’t mean it should ever come to that. Each side would benefit too much from the deal done for it not to happen, and this week would be a pretty convenient time to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Saleh was right when he said Sunday that Rodgers’s wanting to be a Jet is a great sign for the program he and Douglas have built. In case you missed it, here’s what the Jets coach told NFL Network during the media conglomerate’s annual round of one-on-one interviews with the league’s head coaches.
“Two years ago when we first got there,” Saleh told Judy Battista, “just thinking about where we were and how far we’ve come, to have a guy like him want to play for us is pretty cool and shows how far we’ve come.”
It is, indeed, a good indication. Yeah, they haven’t been great (11–23 with Saleh as head coach, 20–46 with Douglas as GM). But they were 7–4 last year, and probably would’ve gone further had the quarterback situation not blown up down the stretch. And while everyone has blood on their hands for Zach Wilson’s being selected with the second pick in 2021, they drafted and developed almost everywhere else.
That’s what appeals to Rodgers, knowing there are young guys such as Garrett Wilson, Sauce Gardner, Quinnen Williams, Ali Vera-Tucker and Breece Hall on hand, and with so many of those types of rookie contracts, flexibility for a new quarterback to bring an armada of players with him.
So, like Saleh said, that’s all good, and if they can land Rodgers, we’ll see whether they really were just a quarterback away.