The Jets actually did it. After months of consternation and encroaching feeling that a trade might not happen, New York finally landed Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers. It wasn’t the steal they probably hoped, giving up what will be tantamount to a first and second round pick for Rodgers, but if it means the Jets are able to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in the next two years then nobody will care that they overpaid for a 39-year-old quarterback.
We’ve seen the “win-now” model in the NFL succeed twice in recent years, both in the NFC. The Buccaneers in 2020, followed by the Rams in 2021 both believed they were a quarterback away, and acquired huge stars in the twilights of their careers to make it happen. There’s no question that the Bucs and Rams wouldn’t have won without Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford respectively, but does that means lightning can strike a third time in New York?
It’s critical to understand just how bad quarterback play was in New York in 2022
No team experienced a talent disparity between its defense and quarterbacking like the Jets did last year. All season the Jets boasted one of the best defenses in the NFL, allowing a stingy 18.6 points per game, good for fourth in the league. Not only did the defense prevent points, but they were opportunistic as well, recording 16 turnovers and giving the offense a short field on numerous occasions.
It set an incredible base for even mediocre QB play to succeed, but the Jets couldn’t even manage to get “mediocre” out of Zach Wilson, Mike White, and Joe Flacco. This island of misfit toys threw 14 interceptions, fumbled the ball 8 times — while only managing to record 17 total touchdowns, passing and rushing. It resulted in an offense that scored 17.4 points per game, 29th in the NFL, while enabling a turnover differential of -7.
These issues were limited wholly to the men under center. The Jets boasted solid receivers, led by rookie Garrett Wilson who managed somehow to finish with over 1,100 receiving yards. Early in the season the Jets also boasted one of the best running backs in the NFL, with Breece Hall averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry before being injured.
A lot of the time we can’t blame a team’s failings on one single factor. Here we can: The quarterbacks sucked.
What Aaron Rodgers does to flip these fortunes
The biggest misconception about the Rodgers trade is this idea that the Jets require him to turn back the clock a year or two and become the 35+ TD monster he was when he won back-to-back MVP awards. The truth is, the Jets can win with the 2022 version of Rodgers, which was the worst we’ve ever seen from him.
At a granular level it’s not that difficult to draw a direct comparison. Compared to the 2022 Jets, 2022 Rodgers threw two fewer interceptions, and recorded 10 more total touchdowns. He did this with a defense that allowed 21.8 points per game, and with a far worse offensive supporting cast, still managing to bring them to parity with 21.8 points per game.
Like most things, Rodgers’ potential for 2023 will fall somewhere between extremes. He’ll neither be as bad as he was in 2022, nor as good as he was in 2020 — and that’s okay. It’s still such a colossal upgrade that the Jets will win a lot of games.
What Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford did to the Buccaneers and Rams
The last two “win-now” teams both had their own struggles at quarterback, albeit in very different ways.
Tampa Bay was coming off Jameis Winston’s 2019, one of the most comical QB seasons in NFL history. This is when he threw 33 touchdowns, but also set an NFL record with 30 interceptions. The offense was one of the best in the NFL, but the defense was absolutely overwhelmed needing to deal with a short field so often because of Winston’s picks that it didn’t matter than the Buccaneers were 3rd in the NFL in scoring, because they were also 29th in points allowed.
By simply having a QB that didn’t throw picks, it allowed Tampa Bay to turn everything around. They went from being a 7-9 team to 11-5, winning the Super Bowl in the process. Offensively Brady was essentially on par with Winston the year before, as the Buccaneers were 3rd in scoring again, but throwing 18 fewer interceptions boosted the scoring defense to 8th in the NFL.
A year later the Rams found themselves in a different situation, much closer to what the Jets experienced. In 2020 Los Angeles had the best defense in the NFL by a mile. They allowed 18.5 points per game, forced 22 turnovers, and made life exceptionally easy for Jared Goff. It wasn’t that Goff was bad, he just wasn’t special — managing to only capitalize with 20 passing touchdowns and 13 interceptions. It was clear the Rams needed an upgrade too if they wanted to get over the hump, albeit not as pronounced as the Buccaneers experienced the year before.
Matthew Stafford turned the ball over more than Goff did. However, the offensive boost the Rams experienced lifted the team to such a degree that it didn’t matter. It evened out the team as a whole, and instead of being 1st in defense and 22nd in offense, Los Angeles was 15th in defense and 7th in offense. That small margin of improvement was enough to win the Lombardi Trophy.
What about the supporting casts?
With a new QB in a win-now scenario comes a whole host of ancillary signings designed to push for a Super Bowl right away. The ink is barely dry on the Rodgers deal, so it’s important to remember that a lot of these late veteran signings will happen closer to training camp than right now, but here’s who each team added in their “win-now” year.
“Win-Now” Free Agency Signings
|OT Joe Haeg
|WR DeSean Jackson
|WR Allen Lazard
|WR Bryant Mitchell
|WR Odell Beckham Jr. (midseason)
|WR Mecole Hardman
|DT Ndamukong Suh
|OG Wes Schweizer
|TE Rob Gronkowski (trade)
|DT Quintin Jefferson
|C Trystan Colon-Castillo
Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman are significant talent upgrades for the Jets. They might not have the same high-end impact that OBJ had for the Rams or Gronk had for the Patriots, but they are very solid additions along with key depth players to make this possible.
What’s the ceiling for the 2023 New York Jets and what does it take to get there?
This team can win the Super Bowl. Really, it’s that simple. They are functionally a very similar football team to the San Francisco 49ers, except that Rodgers is a better quarterback than the Niners had had in recent years, even in his flawed form.
I know there’s a tendency to knee-jerk and say “won’t happen” with a win-now team, but we’ve seen it happen twice in three years, and the Jets are in a similar situation. In fact, I’m more bullish on the Jets to win it all than either the Buccaneers or Rams during the same timeframe after their Super Bowl wins.
In terms of what we need to see: Essentially everyone just has to do their thing. New York has one of the best defenses in the NFL with arguably the best cornerback in the league in Sauce Gardner, and if Aaron Rodgers can throw for 3,800 yards, 26 touchdowns and 7 interceptions it will be enough to take this team deep in the playoffs.
The big differentiating factor in this scenario is age, not of the QB, but the rest of the team. Brady and Stafford joined established, veteran teams with playoff experience all over the roster. Rodgers will join a much younger, much less experienced team — and that will require some deft personnel management to make sure the moment doesn’t get too big for this team.
This isn’t about building a sustained, winning football team for the Jets. It’s about hearing the starting pistol and sprinting to the finish. They can absolutely do this, and the Rodgers trade is what makes it all tick. Now it’s on New York not to crumble under the weight of expectation.