More than likely, Aaron Rodgers will be the New York Jets' starting quarterback in 2023. He already said he intends to play for them next season and the team's top decision-makers flew out to meet with Rodgers following his darkness retreat.
The only issue is: Rodgers is still under contract with the Green Bay Packers and would need to be traded to the Jets. And while every report indicates that this is what will come to pass at some point before Week 1, there is still a chance it doesn't. Rodgers has all the leverage, but the Packers don't appear in a rush to make a deal just yet.
New York reportedly explored "everything at quarterback" this offseason, but missed on almost all of their non-Rodgers options while waiting for a trade.
Derek Carr, who the Jets reportedly told would be a Hall-of-Famer in New York, signed with the New Orleans Saints. Jimmy Garoppolo, who has ties to head coach Robert Saleh during their time together with the San Franciso 49ers, signed with the Las Vegas Raiders. Mike White, who stepped in to replace Zach Wilson twice over the past two seasons, left New York for the division-rival Miami Dolphins. Even low-risk, unexciting players Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew, Baker Mayfield and Taylor Heinicke found new homes.
New York exhausted nearly every realistic option in its pursuit of Rodgers, which leaves not a lot of backup plans in the event a trade never manifests. If the Jets fail to land Rodgers, they’ll be left with more complicated decisions for the short- and long-term future of their franchise.
And here they are:
Sign-and-trade for Lamar Jackson
This is the pie-in-the-sky scenario for the Jets, and some might say a better option than Rodgers. He's younger and more dynamic but would require a massive offensive overhaul schematically. Jackson is free to negotiate directly with teams after the Baltimore Ravens placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on him, but the Ravens could match any deal.
So in this case, New York would have to offer Jackson whatever contract he wanted and pray the Ravens aren’t willing to pay it. And then the team would still cough up two first-round picks. It’s a small price to pay for a franchise guy but would likely be more than what the Jets have to give up for Rodgers and cost an exorbitant amount of guaranteed money.
Trade for Ryan Tannehill or Matthew Stafford
Either of these quarterbacks would be a solid backup plan. Neither Ryan Tannehill nor Matthew Stafford is on the same level as Rodgers, but both have tons of experience and a proven track record. Tannehill worked with Jets passing game coordinator Todd Downing with the Tennesee Titans from 2019-2022 and Stafford won a Super Bowl in the Sean McVay offense with the Los Angeles Rams in the 2021 season.
Money would be an issue for both, though. Tannehill's contract comes with a $27 million base salary in 2023, per Over the Cap, while the Rams couldn't trade Stafford until after June 1 after $57 million of his salary became guaranteed on Mar. 16. Less than what Rodgers would cost, but the skillset is also less, too.
Trade for Kirk Cousins or Jared Goff
This is where things start to get depressing when juxtaposed with the allure of Rodgers. Kirk Cousins and Jared Goff are fine quarterbacks but wouldn’t necessarily turn the Jets into playoff contenders and would still cost a lot of money relative to their production.
Cousins tied for second in the league with 14 interceptions this season despite the existence of 2022 Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson. He also has a no-trade clause and would have to approve of any deal with a $20.25 million cap hit in 2023. Goff had a surprisingly solid season with the Lions with 4,438 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and only seven interceptions, but has a $30.9 million cap hit in 2023 and another (non-guaranteed) $31.9 million cap hit in 2024.
Sign Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan, Teddy Bridgewater or Cam Newton
None of these would inspire much confidence going into 2023. Carson Wentz just left his third team in three seasons after failing with the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and Washington Commanders. Matt Ryan will be 38 years old in May and is coming off his worst season in the NFL. Teddy Bridgewater has been inefficient for the past three teams he's played for. And Cam Newton is attempting a comeback after not playing in 2022 and only playing in eight games in 2021.
The Jets would be wise not to spend their money on any of these players.
Draft a quarterback
If insanity is repeating the same mistake and expecting a different result, this would be it for the Jets. New York has drafted three first-round quarterbacks since 2009, which is tied for the most in the league over that span with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns. None made it to a second contract.
Even if the Jets wanted another rookie, it would be almost impossible for them to draft one unless they traded from the No. 13 pick to, at the highest, the No. 3 pick owned by the Arizona Cardinals. It cost the No. 9 pick, the No. 61 pick, a 2024 first-round pick, a 2025 second-round pick and wide receiver D.J. Moore for the Carolina Panthers to move up to No. 1, meaning the Jets would have to give up around that to move up 10 spots. That's a lot to give up for what would likely be the third-best quarterback in the draft.
Lure Tom Brady out of retirement
Brady already denied one report that he could return to the NFL, but a boatload of money, the bright lights of New York and the chance to play Bill Belichick at least twice next season might be tempting enough. This is an almost impossible option unless Jets owner Woody Johnson is truly desperate, and even then it would be hard to imagine Brady wearing the jersey of the team he dominated during his 20-year reign with the New England Patriots.
Run it back with Zach Wilson and/or Joe Flacco
Never say never, but this would truly be the worst-case scenario for the Jets and likely the team's Plan Z. There is almost no way the Jets could start Wilson in Week 1 after an offseason where the team and its players publicly fawned over other quarterbacks. Robert Saleh benched Wilson twice in 2022 for a reason — even if general manager Joe Douglas claimed the team still thinks Wilson has a high ceiling. Oh yeah, and Wilson still needs to learn the new system under offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
Flacco might be an even worse option. First, the Jets would need to re-sign him and then somehow expect the team to rally around the 38-year-old who completed 57.6 percent of his passes in five games this past season with an average of 5.5 yards per attempt. No thanks.
Rodgers must still be the end goal
Anything short of a Rodgers-Jets marriage would be a major disappointment for New York, and thus trading for the four-time MVP should be the team’s top priority for the quarterback position. While some of the moves listed are adequate fallbacks, none — save for a Hail Mary move for Jackson — would elevate the Jets the way Rodgers would.
Losing out on Rodgers would also deflate the hype surrounding the Jets all offseason. The players sounded excited on social media with the prospect of acquiring Rodgers and the betting markets reflected a team on the rise. Not trading for Rodgers doesn’t mean the Jets can’t make the postseason — they nearly did a year ago — but the idea New York could win a Super Bowl would almost be out of the equation for 2023.