Super Bowl aspirations surround the New York Jets despite their dubious distinction of owning the longest playoff drought across the four major U.S. sports leagues along with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres at 12 seasons.
Landing Aaron Rodgers can do that to a downtrodden franchise that’s foundered since losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC championship following the 2010 season.
That was the last AFC title game that didn’t feature either the New England Patriots or Kansas City Chiefs. And while the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick pairing and later the Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid duo were ruling the conference, the Jets were stumbling through 11 non-winning seasons and finishing last in the AFC East seven times.
“He’s brought a lot of juice, obviously, and he’s brought a lot of hype and it’s awesome, because we want all of it,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said of Rodgers, the four-time MVP who’s following in Brett Favre’s footsteps in moving to New York at age 39 after starring in Green Bay.
Favre posted a winning record in his single season with the Jets but didn’t get them to the playoffs. Rodgers’ task could prove even tougher as he jumps to a conference that’s top-heavy in elite quarterbacks including the likes of Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen.
At least Rodgers has some familiar faces to throw to as former Packers Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard joined him with the Jets as did ex-Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman. That bolsters a roster featuring the reigning rookies of the year in wideout Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner. (Although, the receiving corps took a hit when Corey Davis announced he was stepping away from football ).
Running back Dalvin Cook spent six years with the Vikings and jumped at the chance to take hand-offs from Rodgers, signing a one-year deal with the Jets.
The Jets also hired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who oversaw the Packers offense from 2019-21 when Rodgers won two NFL MVP awards and made the Pro Bowl all three seasons.
Hackett is fresh off a calamitous head coaching debut in Denver, where he went 4-11 before getting fired amid Russell Wilson’s career-worst season — but Rodgers has his buddy back.
When Broncos coach Sean Payton this summer called the work Hackett and his staff did in Denver last season “ one of the worst coaching jobs in the NFL,” Rodgers retorted that Payton needs to “keep my coaches’ names out of his mouth.”
Rodgers in his oversized Gotham green helmet isn’t the only new sight awaiting NFL fans in 2023.
LEFT TACKLE ORLANDO BROWN JR.: Brown switched sides in the budding rivalry between Kansas City and Cincinnati after winning a Super Bowl ring in his second season with the Chiefs. The top free agent on the market this year, he signed a four-year, $64 million deal with Cincinnati, where he’ll provide blindside protection for Joe Burrow once the quarterback recovers from a calf injury. Burrow has been sacked 153 times in 49 career starts.
RUNNING BACK EZEKIEL ELLIOTT: The three-time Pro Bowler ran for a career-low 876 yards last season but still reached the end zone 12 times. The Cowboys released him in a salary cap move and he signed a one-year deal with New England worth up to $6 million. He won’t be the featured back for the Patriots, however, as he’s expected to serve as a complement to Rhamondre Stevenson.
EDGE RUSHER ZA’DARIUS SMITH: The cap-strapped Minnesota Vikings shed salaries and stars this offseason. They sent Smith, a three-time Pro Bowl pass rusher, to the Cleveland Browns, where Smith is paired up front with All-Pro end Myles Garrett, one of the NFL’s best edge rushers.
QUARTERBACK JIMMY GAROPPOLO: After six up-and-down seasons in San Francisco, Brady’s former backup in New England reunited with Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels on a three-year, $68 million deal. He leads an offense featuring wide receivers Davante Adams, Hunter Renfrow and ex-Patriots pass catcher Jakobi Meyers.
TIGHT END DARREN WALLER: The Raiders traded Waller to the Giants less than two weeks after he married Las Vegas Aces star Kelsey Plum. Waller gives New York quarterback Daniel Jones a major playmaker and an upgrade at tight end. Waller was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2019 and ’20 before injuries cut into his production over the last two seasons.
CORNERBACK JALEN RAMSEY: A year after shaking the NFL with their acquisition of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins made another splash, acquiring three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey from the Los Angeles Rams for a third-round pick and tight end Hunter Long.