Despite not making the playoffs, the Green Bay Packers were not absent from media coverage during the NFL’s Divisional Playoffs. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that both Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers understand that a trade may be the best resolution between the two sides:
Some QB updates from ESPN’s Postseason NFL Countdown on Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Derek Carr and Lamar Jackson: pic.twitter.com/nvtC06bw0p— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 21, 2023
Rodgers himself said that he would like to see a lot of ‘his guys’ brought back. We can infer both from what he said recently and in the past that this likely includes David Bakhtiari, Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, Allen Lazard, and Marcedes Lewis. The Packers may be quite content to keep Bakhtiari who, once back in the lineup and aside from missing time with an appendectomy, became reliable and returned to his elite form. However, the rest of that group may be a bigger issue.
Allen Lazard will be an unrestricted free agent and will almost certainly break ten million per year on the open market. Is Green Bay willing to pay that given their tight cap situation and the fact he has failed in multiple instances to be a go-to target against man coverage? Randall Cobb remained a reliable target on third down, but his role has become limited over the past few years, and with him entering the twilight of his career, does Green Bay want to burn up cap space on a one-down slot receiver with little left in the tank? Robert Tonyan’s 2020 was always a bit of a mirage (no one can maintain that touchdown rate), but after his ACL injury, he never got close to that level of productivity again. Green Bay would probably take Marcedes Lewis back on cheap contracts until he decides he wants to retire, but is Marcedes interested in playing if he thinks the Super Bowl window has closed?
Those are a lot of questions, and that is before the front office staff even asks themselves if they think the Packers are good enough with Aaron Rodgers to compete for a Super Bowl in 2023. The team was not particularly close in 2022; will they be closer in 2023 with less experience in the receiving room and without Rashan Gary for much of the year? Does Aaron Rodgers think this team can contend for a Super Bowl in 2023?
That leaves a trade as the most likely option — pardon me for thinking Aaron Rodgers isn’t going to walk away from $60 million and retires. While Aaron Rodgers does not have a no-trade clause, in reality, he must sign off on a trade since it is difficult to imagine a team trading for him if they aren’t sure if he will play. The Packers are almost certainly not going to trade Rodgers to an NFC team. The Packers also play the AFC West next year, which may take that division off the table (sorry, Raiders). That leaves the Titans, Colts, Texans, Patriots, and Jets as quarterback-needy teams.
The Texans and Colts can probably be removed since they are too porous to contend in the two-year window. It is difficult to imagine a player less suited to play for Bill Belichick at this point than Aaron Rodgers, so I think we can cross them off the list. This leaves the Titans and Jets. The Titans’ supporting cast is, in my opinion, drastically worse than the Jets. Derrick Henry is entering the twilight of his productive years, the Titans’ receiving group is weaker than the Packers, and their defense is quite stout against the run but porous against the pass. The Jets, on the other hand, have a solid supporting cast on offense and the makings of an elite defense.
The Jets receiving group has a very good rookie in Garrett Wilson and solid complementary receivers in Corey Davis and Elijah Moore. Tight end Tyler Conklin presents another solid, if unspectacular, receiving threat. Of course, it’s difficult to measure the true skill of these weapons since the quarterback situation in New York was so disastrous. Zach Wilson, Mike White, and Joe Flacco (yes that Joe Flacco) all took at least a decent number of snaps for the Jets this year, and none of them were able to manage a positive DVOA. Mike White came the closest, but despite a couple of solid games, still has not shown anything suggesting he should be the long-term answer at the position.
While the offense could be solid, the defense is where the Jets really shine. The unit ranked fifth in DVOA despite having the fourth-fewest turnovers in the NFL. Turnovers tend to be relatively noisy year-to-year, so finishing that highly without getting any help from the variance gods suggests that the 2023 defense has a chance to be truly special if they can even force an average number of turnovers.
In addition to the good team fit, the Jets also recently interviewed former Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett for their open offensive coordinator position. He has not received a job offer yet, but if the Jets do find out that Rodgers and the Packers are beginning to explore trade options, I would not be surprised if the Jets hire Hackett to entice Rodgers to sign off on a trade.
The Jets are also in an advantageous position to work with the Packers front office. They do not have a quarterback on a large contract that they need to move. While the Jets are currently narrowly over the 2023 cap, they can quite easily get under through the same basic cap maneuvers everyone has used over the past few years. And beyond 2023, their cap sheet is extremely clean (currently have $112M in 2024 projected cap space, some of which will be utilized in the restructures). This would allow them not only to absorb Rodgers’ cap hit for 2023 (which would only be about $15.8M if they use the option bonus in Rodgers’ contract), but they would have plenty of room to handle the eventual large dead cap hits that would come with his retirement (likely on the 2025 cap).
The Jets have a pick in each of the first six rounds of 2023, plus picks in each round of 2024, 2025, and 2026. A 2023 draft pick trade could get a little weird since, for cap purposes, the trade almost certainly would not be completed until June 2nd, but if the trade is agreed to before draft day, the Jets could draft players on the Packers behalf (Green Bay tells New York who to draft) and then those players’ draft rights would be traded to Green Bay on June 2nd. This has not happened in the NFL yet, but there’s no rule against it, and it happens all the time in the NBA. Even if Green Bay has to wait until 2024 for draft compensation, there is no shortage of picks.
It would be ironic if both of the last two Packers quarterbacks, both Hall of Famers, would then end their Packers careers being traded to the New York Jets. It is not merely historical symmetry that makes the Jets the ideal option, though. The Jets are a quarterback away from being a very good team, and despite having Buffalo in the division, with even the 2019 version of Aaron Rodgers they would be one of the favorites to come out of the AFC. Their window can be ripped open now while their defense and offensive skill players are still young. The Jets would be wise not to waste the opportunity, Green Bay would be wise to take advantage of it, and Aaron Rodgers would be wise to recognize that this would provide him with a much better chance to secure a second Super Bowl ring.