FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- With the drama building toward a potential return, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers reiterated Tuesday that the team's position in the playoff race will be a factor in whether he returns this season.
The Jets (4-7) have a four-game losing streak, reducing their playoff chances to less than 1%, according to ESPN Analytics.
"I think it's always been first, am I healthy?" Rodgers said Tuesday on "The Pat McAfee Show" during his weekly appearance. "Then, are we in it? Are we playing good enough to make a run? Can I step in and protect myself and play the level that I feel like I'm capable of playing? Can I protect myself? Can I move around the way I want to move around?"
Rodgers, who underwent Achilles surgery Sept. 13, said from the outset of his rehab that the Jets' viability as a contender would be a factor. But there had been recent speculation he would be willing to return regardless of the team's record.
On Tuesday, he seemed to put that to rest, emphasizing that the stakes will matter. In the AFC standings, the Jets are 15th out of 16 teams, ahead of only the New England Patriots (2-9).
Rodgers, who turns 40 on Saturday, said he's close to getting back on the practice field.
"There's a natural progression here to the rehab, and that's going to involve actually getting back onto the field to start to do some things that are more football related," he said. "But we're not where I can make a decision on playing because, health-wise, I'm improving steadily, but I'm not an ability to play at this point."
Once they open his practice window, the Jets will have 21 days to decide whether to activate him from injured reserve. Rodgers is said to be aiming for the Dec. 24 game against the Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium.
Coach Robert Saleh has said the organization won't stand in his way if he's cleared by doctors. The team doctors have been in communication with Rodgers' Los Angeles-based doctor, Neal ElAttrache, who performed the surgery.
Rodgers said he's running on an Alter G treadmill at 70% of his body weight at 8 mph. He's well ahead of the typical recovery from Achilles surgery. The NFL's quickest return was by running back Cam Akers, who came back in five months for the Los Angeles Rams in 2021. Doctors say it takes at least three months for the tendon to heal, followed by strength-building rehab. Rodgers is only 11 weeks removed from surgery.
"Obviously, I still have to get cleared by everybody ... but it's health first and then, can I play? Are we alive for the playoffs, second?" he said.
After rehabbing in California, Rodgers returned to the Jets' facility on a full-time basis this week and will continue his program under the supervision of the Jets' training staff, with ElAttrache's team monitoring his progress from Los Angeles.
"For me, coming in after the game we had, seeing him and how hard he's been working, that's motivation for me," guard Laken Tomlinson said Monday.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley said Monday, "As a friend, as a teammate, I'm just happy to see him healthy, to see him smiling, see him having a pep in his step, which is crazy."