It has been nearly three years since Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst used a first-round pick on Jordan Love, a move that seemed to hint at the end of the Hall of Famer's tenure in Green Bay. Rodgers responded by winning back-to-back MVP awards and signing an extension with the team. Now, after a disappointing season for both Rodgers and the Packers, the two sides have split.
It's easy to understand why the Packers were ready to move on. Love has sat on the bench for most of his first three seasons and has a fifth-year option decision coming due this spring. Rodgers is owed a $58.3 million bonus before the 2023 season and a whopping $108.7 million over the next two years. After he came out of his darkness retreat and announced he wanted to play for the Jets in 2023, the writing was on the wall regarding his relationship with Green Bay.
In a situation in which both the Jets and Packers were locked into a deal with no alternatives, it was going to be difficult to negotiate compensation, which is why it took until the days before the draft to get a deal done. The Packers are sending Rodgers and Picks 15 and 170 in this year's draft to the Jets. In return, the Jets are shipping off Picks 13, 42 and 207 in this draft and a second-rounder in 2024 that could become a first-rounder if Rodgers plays at least 65% of the snaps this season.
Tying the jump to a first-rounder on that 2024 pick to roughly playing 12 games as opposed to a more substantial total or some sort of production or win-based measure is a victory for Gutekunst. When I wrote my mock draft of trades column, I included a compensatory selection that rose a round if Rodgers won a playoff game with New York. Making it into a 12th game is a much likelier proposition.
It's difficult to estimate the value of that compensatory pick, given that it's tied to both the Jets' performance and the chances of Rodgers playing 65% of the offensive snaps, but let's try. I would guess Rodgers has a 75% chance of making it to that snap total, and the Jets win about 10 games next season. In that scenario, they would owe Green Bay something like the 22nd pick in a typical draft. Teams typically discount future picks by about a round, so you might instead choose to value this as something more like a 2023 second-rounder. There's no right answer.
If we treat that conditional pick as the 22nd selection with no discount, this would amount to a significant return for the Packers. The Jets would be sending 2,418 points of draft value on the Jimmy Johnson chart to the Packers and getting 1,073 points in return. The difference is 1,345 points, which amounts to pick No. 9 in a typical draft.
Is that too much to pay for a 39-year-old quarterback making more than all but one other player in NFL history? The Jets fans who watched Zach Wilson last season might have been willing to take up a collection to help ownership pay for Rodgers. This is a huge swing from New York and general manager Joe Douglas, albeit one in which they hold on to this year's first-round pick. Emotionally, it's a move every single Jets fan would have made at the end of last season, and one they'll be happy with if Rodgers leads the Jets to their first playoff run since 2010.
Thinking more soberly about the deal, there are a few arguments to consider. On paper, upgrading from Wilson to Rodgers is an easy consideration. On the field, though, are the Jets likely to realize the sort of return they're hoping for in making this deal? Let's take a closer look at three key conversations surrounding the trade.
Argument No. 1: The Jets are now a championship contender
If the Jets get the defense we saw for most of 2022, this one probably is true. From Week 3 on, they were dominant. They allowed 1.46 points per possession and a 43.8 QBR, both of which led the league. They ranked second in yards per play and fourth in expected points added (EPA) per play allowed. Plus, Robert Saleh's defense did all this despite inheriting the fourth-worst average starting field position from the offense and special teams.
If you combine that sort of defense with even a competent offense, it usually produces plenty of victories. One way to put that into context is to try to isolate how the Jets performed on offense and what it did to contribute to their victories. ESPN has a stat called win probability added (WPA), which measures how much an offense, defense and/or special teams contributed to its team's chances of winning.
The Jets posted a positive WPA -- meaning the offense helped more than it hurt -- eight times last season. They went 7-1 in those games, with the lone loss coming against the Lions. If the offense merely showed up, the defense did enough to win. When Wilson & Co. posted subzero win probabilities on offense and detracted from the Jets' chances of winning, however, they went 0-9.
Just 25% of the league's performances on offense last season resulted in a negative WPA. The Jets had those disaster games more than twice as often. If that seems bad, well, it is: The only teams whose offenses dragged them down more often were the Colts' (11 times) and the Texans' (10), both of which seemed to be angling for a high draft pick and a shot at a young quarterback. The Jets were actively trying to win with a young quarterback whom they used the 2021 No. 2 overall pick to acquire!
The only time since 2007 in which New York had more than nine of these subzero games was 2020, the year that led the franchise to draft Wilson. If it had just been passable on offense in a couple of more games last season, it likely would have been a playoff team.
The Jets haven't had a starting quarterback post back-to-back above-average seasons by the era-adjusted stats at Pro Football Reference since Ken O'Brien did it in 1990 and 1991, more than 30 years ago. They've had just six above-average seasons from their quarterbacks over that timeframe and just one since 2004, when Josh McCown snuck over the bar in 2017.
Rodgers offers a significant ceiling for the Jets, but he also raises the floor dramatically. The Packers were above that zero WPA mark in 192 of his 223 regular-season starts, or 86.1% of the time. Once Matt LaFleur arrived in 2019, Rodgers and the Packers were above that mark 58 times in 65 starts (89%). We'll get to the ceiling, but if Rodgers can keep up his play and Saleh sparks the same output from the defense, this will be a 2023 playoff team on the strength of the quarterback competency upgrade alone.
Will the Jets' defense be as good as it was in 2022?
The Jets wouldn't make this move unless they thought they were serious contenders in the AFC, so this question is worth discussing. We've seen teams recently pull off moves for veterans Davante Adams (Raiders) and Khalil Mack (Bears) when they think they're close to contending, only for those deals to come up short because the rosters around those flashy acquisitions weren't as good as they seemed.
I'll start with the positives: There are reasons to think the Jets might be even better on the defensive side of the ball. They struggled to force turnovers during Saleh's first two seasons at the helm, which is subject to a significant amount of randomness. They ranked 31st in takeaways in 2021 and 29th last season.
The offense was a problem during New York's second-half collapse, but the other issue during that 1-7 finish was the total absence of takeaways. After forcing 14 takeaways through their first nine games, the Jets mustered only two across their final eight. Over the entire season, they forced 19 fumbles on defense but recovered only four. Forcing fumbles is a skill, but what happens once the ball hits the turf is random. They should recover more of those fumbles in 2023 and force more takeaways as a result.
The Jets also return the vast majority of their key contributors. Outside of Lamarcus Joyner, the top 10 players on their 2022 defense by snap count are all set to return. Gang Green was a league-average defense in terms of age last season, but many of their best players are either on their rookie deals or just beyond. It wouldn't be a surprise if cornerback Sauce Gardner and defensive end Jermaine Johnson improved in Year 2.
On the other hand, while those players are returning, there's no guarantee the Jets will have them around quite as often. Per Football Outsiders' adjusted games lost statistic, New York had the league's healthiest defense, one year after being the fourth-most-injured D. Teamwide health isn't predictable or sustainable, so the most realistic expectation for the Jets would be to project an average amount of health. Obviously, trading for Rodgers comes at the expense of adding more depth on that side of the ball.
The Jets might also be subject to what Bill James called the Plexiglass Principle, in which teams that make major strides in one way or another often give back some of those improvements the following season. Buoyed in part by its health, New York jumped all the way from 32nd to fifth in defensive DVOA. Teams that make those kinds of leaps typically drop back the following season.
One recent example is the Commanders, who jumped from 27th to third in defensive DVOA in 2020 before falling back to 27th the following season. Just as Jets fans would point to their exciting young core on defense, Washington fans could have pointed to a defensive line that included stars Chase Young, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen. The Commanders still declined, in part because Young tore an ACL.
If that seems too abstract, one other factor to consider is much more traditional. The Jets benefited from plenty of exposure to second- and third-string quarterbacks a year ago. During their 7-4 start, they played five games against quarterbacks who weren't their team's preferred starter when everybody was healthy and available. They won all five, beating Jacoby Brissett, Mitch Trubisky, Teddy Bridgewater (who was injured after one attempt and replaced by Skylar Thompson), Brett Rypien and Trevor Siemian.
Guess what happened during that six-game losing streak to end the season? The Jets stopped seeing backup quarterbacks. The only backup they faced over the final stretch was in Week 18, when Thompson threw for 152 yards on 31 attempts in an 11-6 Dolphins victory that shouldn't be watched by anybody under any circumstances. They finished 5-1 against backup quarterbacks and an underwhelming 2-9 against starters. Every team typically faces a backup or two as the year goes along, but I wouldn't count on New York getting six games against second- and third-stringers again.
If the defense isn't as good as it was in 2022 for any of those reasons, the Jets could still make major strides next season. It will just require more from the offense. We have a good idea of what Rodgers could bring, which is something this fan base isn't used to.
Argument No. 2: Trading for Rodgers heals a psychic pain
Every team can have a lean year or two, but what about a half-century? In 1972, 29-year-old Joe Namath led the league in passing yards and touchdowns as part of the NFL's second-best scoring offense. If you were a young person who became a Jets fan over the prior decade, you had been treated to a championship, one of the greatest upsets in the history of professional sports and stellar play from your quarterback. You probably felt like you had made the right choice, right?
Four of The Associated Press' 75 voters chose Namath as their MVP in 1972, placing Namath third that season. Since then, not a single Jets player has garnered a single AP MVP vote. I'm not talking about winning an award; no Jets player has received a single vote from any AP voter in any race over the past 50 years.
Jets players are 0-for-several thousand. Every other NFL franchise besides the Jaguars has had an NFL player receive at least one MVP vote since 1972, and the Jags didn't come into existence until 1995. Unlike the Jaguars, the Jets play in the biggest media market in America, one in which the Giants have had five different players take home at least one vote over that time frame.
Gang Green has enjoyed a few superstars over that period, but they've almost all been either defensive players (Darrelle Revis, Mark Gastineau, Mo Lewis) or offensive linemen (Joe Fields, Dan Alexander, Nick Mangold). Running back Curtis Martin is one of the few exceptions, but even the future Hall of Famer wasn't able to muster a single MVP vote. With two Offensive Player of the Year votes in 2004, Martin garnered exactly half of the OPOY votes the Jets received over the past half-century, with Ken O'Brien taking home one of 75 votes in 1986 and Vinny Testaverde one in 1998.
All of this is to say that if you became a Jets fan after Namath's peak, there have not been many moments in your life where you woke up, thought about your team and felt like you had a quarterback who could win the MVP award. Maybe you felt that way about Testaverde in 1999, but he tore his left Achilles in Week 1. Chad Pennington didn't even make it to the opener after his lofty 2002 season before suffering a wrist injury and subsequently tearing his rotator cuff, altering his career in the process.
If there has ever been a moment in which Jets fans could wake up and feel like they had a true MVP candidate, it was in 2008. Their quarterback that year was the 39-year-old they had just acquired from the Packers, Brett Favre, who had finished second in the MVP race the prior season, albeit with one vote to Tom Brady's 49. Favre had won three MVP awards a decade before arriving in New York, but he had received votes in six different seasons.
Favre got off to a hot start with the Jets, only for a torn biceps in his throwing arm that led to a 1-4 collapse at the end of his lone season in New York. He would retire and unretire again and then move on to the Vikings, where he claimed MVP votes for the seventh time before declining and retiring for good (I think).
Now, in acquiring another 39-year-old quarterback from the Packers, Jets fans have another quarterback who could viably win MVP. Rodgers has four awards on his mantel, including back-to-back victories in 2020 and 2021. The Jets simply have not had a quarterback with a recent résumé as impressive as Rodgers since Namath, who played his last game for the team during the Ford administration.
From this lens, trading for Rodgers is about something more than the 2023 Jets. It's about giving hope to a fan base that has been forced to watch mostly disastrous quarterback play since the disco era. General manager Joe Douglas & Co. haven't been part of this organization for the vast majority of that run, but by trading for Rodgers, New York suddenly has its best shot in 50 years of having a quarterback compete with anybody else in football at his position. How many first-round picks is that worth? What would the Jets pay for a sure thing?
Undoubtedly a lot, but there's another question also worth asking:
What if Rodgers is more like the guy from 2022 than the MVP winner of 2020 and 2021?
As good as Rodgers was during those back-to-back MVP campaigns, last season wasn't just a fall back to the rest of the league's top quarterbacks. It was a drop to league average. He ranked 26th in Total QBR, finishing just ahead of Russell Wilson, whose disastrous debut season in Denver was enough to cost coach Nathaniel Hackett his job. The now-Jets offensive coordinator was with Rodgers in 2020 and 2021, when he led the league in QBR.
Rodgers' numbers mostly declined across the board, but the most notable change came in the one element of the game in which he has been truly historic over the past few years. After throwing just 15 interceptions across his prior four seasons, Rodgers threw 12 picks in 2022. He fumbled eight times after averaging just over four fumbles per year between 2018 and 2021. Those numbers aren't in themselves a problem, but nobody has been better at protecting the ball in recent years than Rodgers. If that skill went away and it's not coming back, he is a less appealing option.
Interception rates can fluctuate from year to year for even the best quarterbacks, but Rodgers' ability to keep interception rates low was remarkable. Some of what we saw in 2022 was more in the vein of bad luck. He had two passes tipped at the line before being picked, while a third was tipped high into the air (after Rodgers escaped a free rusher up the A-gap) by Darius Slay, with the ball eventually landing in Josiah Scott's hands. In a lucky season, maybe those passes fall harmlessly to the ground incomplete. In an unlucky season, well, stuff like that happens.
Rodgers didn't seem to get much help from his receivers, who dropped passes at the second-highest rate of any group. It often felt like he was on different pages from his playmakers, and while you might expect that to be a problem with the rookies, Allen Lazard seemed to either run the wrong route, make the wrong adjustment or stop running altogether on a number of Rodgers' interceptions a year ago.
The Packers left too much meat on the bone offensively last season. Between 2020 and 2021, when Rodgers would find a receiver with at least 3 yards of separation, the results were deadly for opposing defenses. He threw 33 touchdown passes without an interception, averaged 9.0 yards per attempt and posted a passer rating of 125.0. So many of those throws were a product of Davante Adams breaking down opposing coverage, but Rodgers took advantage of those moments to create chunk plays.
Without Adams last season, while Rodgers had about as many throws to open receivers per game as he'd had over the prior two seasons, the efficiency of those throws dissipated. He averaged just 7.1 yards per attempt on throws to open wideouts when the league averaged 8.5. He threw six touchdown passes against three picks on these passes and posted a passer rating of 99, more than 10 points below the league average. Some of those missing big plays were drops, but others were poorly thrown passes, like the would-be touchdown to David Bakhtiari against the Lions where Rodgers underthrew a leak concept to his open left tackle.
Rodgers should have better receivers in New York. Lazard joined the team in free agency, but he won't be miscast as the team's primary wideout again. Garrett Wilson was more impressive as a rookie than either Christian Watson or Romeo Doubs despite playing with an underwhelming cast of quarterbacks. Corey Davis has been a free agent bust since signing a big deal in 2021; he's two years removed from a big season with the Titans but likely will be in an offense closer to the one he excelled with in Nashville. The Jets have a pair of useful tight ends and promising running back Breece Hall. There's a lot to like on paper.
At the same time, there's going to be an adjustment period between Rodgers and his young receivers, something Kalyn Kahler documented for The Athletic last season. Davis might be cut to create cap space. Braxton Berrios, who had been effective in the slot as the team's fourth option, was released and signed by the Dolphins. Adams didn't break out as a superstar until his fifth season with Rodgers. It would be a lot to ask of Wilson to turn into the new Adams.
Injuries are also a concern. Hall is coming off a torn ACL, while emerging star guard Alijah Vera-Tucker is recovering from a torn triceps. Both had their seasons ended prematurely. Mekhi Becton, who looked like a franchise left tackle as a rookie in 2020, has played one game in two seasons because of ankle and knee issues and fell out of favor with the current regime. George Fant, who impressed in Becton's absence in 2021, wasn't as effective last season and is a free agent. If all the pieces fall into place, as they did for Tom Brady when he joined the Bucs, this could work out wonderfully. As we saw with Favre's arrival in New York, things don't always go as smoothly.
Rodgers will get to work with a familiar face at offensive coordinator in Hackett, but it's fair to wonder what this offense will look like and whether Hackett's capable of being the lead person in game planning on a week-to-week basis. His offense in Denver never found solutions for Wilson and didn't get better as the year went along. His offenses in Buffalo and Jacksonville under the auspices of Doug Marrone were middling to awful. Hackett enjoyed plenty of success in Green Bay, but he wasn't the lead playcaller or designer -- that role fell to coach Matt LaFleur. Rodgers' legacy is secure, but if Hackett can't make it work with his old pal, it's tough to see him getting another gig as a coordinator.
Argument No. 3: Both sides had no other options
No team wants to make a franchise-altering trade because it's the only one left at the table, but it's fair to suggest the Jets and Packers had to make this trade because neither side had a realistic alternative.
For the Jets, it was clear they needed some escape route from the Zach Wilson era, which had grown to be untenable before the end of his second season. Things typically don't go this poorly; the last top-three pick at quarterback whose situation grew this dire so quickly was probably Cincinnati's Akili Smith, who lost his starting job to Jon Kitna after Year 2. Even Smith got to spend two more seasons on the Bengals, although he started two games after his second season and didn't take another regular-season snap after being released in 2003.
Who were the alternatives? The Jets were set to have the No. 13 overall pick and likely weren't in position to land a quarterback without a significant move up the draft board. Even then, the same organization that just struck out on top-three picks Wilson and Sam Darnold might understandably have had cold feet about entrusting its playoff chances to another rookie passer. I don't think that was a viable solution.
What about the veterans? Daniel Jones and Geno Smith re-signed with their respective franchises. Tom Brady retired. Jimmy Garoppolo made sense, especially when fellow former 49ers employee Mike LaFleur was still offensive coordinator, but the Jets parted ways with LaFleur after the season. Garoppolo, who had an established relationship with Josh McDaniels in New England, might always have been going to the Raiders from the moment they moved on from Derek Carr.
Carr visited the Jets, who reportedly told the longtime Raiders starter that he could become a first-ballot Hall of Famer in New York. Whether it was because he preferred New Orleans or because the Jets were dragging their feet on Rodgers, Carr chose to pass up his trip to Canton to join the Saints.
Bridge options such as Jacoby Brissett, Baker Mayfield, Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton signed elsewhere in the early days of free agency. Teddy Bridgewater is still a free agent, as is plummeting former No. 2 overall pick Carson Wentz, but neither would be the sort of upgrade the Jets could count on as a 17-game starter in 2023, let alone as their quarterback of the future.
The trade market wasn't deep, either. The 49ers don't seem desperate to trade Trey Lance. The Titans don't seem like they're about to trade Ryan Tannehill, even as they rebuild (unless they draft a quarterback). Matthew Stafford could plausibly have been on the market as the Rams rebuild, but it's tough to believe the Jets would be willing to guarantee him $68.5 million over the next two seasons given Stafford's recent injury history. It also would have been exceedingly tough for the Rams to eat $48 million in dead money on their 2023 cap.
So, that leaves Rodgers and Lamar Jackson. It's true Jackson is younger, which makes a better case for trading to get his rights. Given the modest gap between what the Jets paid for Rodgers and what they would need to give to the Ravens as compensation for an offer sheet, it's fair to wonder whether the Jets might have been better off sending a little more to land a player who can be their quarterback for the next decade.
The big difference, of course, was probably availability: The Packers were eager to trade Rodgers, while the Ravens still have the right to match any offer for Jackson. There's no guarantee the Jets would have landed Jackson, even if they had been willing to send two first-round picks to Baltimore. Attempting to sign Jackson before settling for Rodgers might have bruised the Packers legend's ego before he ever stepped foot in New York.
For the Packers, meanwhile, getting Rodgers off the books was clearly an offseason project. Team president Mark Murphy talked about Rodgers' Packers career as something from the past. Green Bay has been waiting to hear about Rodgers' decision so it could solve its cap issues, which aren't aided in the short term by a Rodgers trade: The Packers will owe more than $40 million in dead money on their 2023 cap, up from $31.6 million if Rodgers had stayed and continued playing for the team.
If Rodgers wasn't going to the Jets, though, where was he heading? His destination needed to be a team that had the potential to win now with a major upgrade at quarterback and both the cap space and cash to deal for a quarterback who will make nearly $109 million over the next two years. NFL teams print money in the big picture, but there are teams that simply don't have that sort of cash on hand to trade for a quarterback, let alone the cap space needed.
What did that market look like? The Dolphins moved forward with Tua Tagovailoa. The Giants kept Jones and the Seahawks retained Smith. The Titans decided to rebuild. The Raiders signed Jimmy Garoppolo. The Panthers traded for the No. 1 overall pick. The 49ers weren't a fit for cap reasons.
There were really only two teams that made sense for Rodgers. One was the Commanders, whose defense ranked third in points per possession allowed from Week 3 on. In many ways, they were a less inspiring or realistic option. They play in the NFC and the Packers preferred to deal Rodgers outside the conference.
Team owners Dan and Tanya Snyder are near a deal to sell the Commanders, a situation in which organizations typically don't take on huge expenses in order to avoid saddling the new owner with a significant debt. The Snyders are about to make billions of dollars, but they probably don't want to pay a $58.3 million bonus for a quarterback who will be playing for someone else's franchise in a few months.
The other option was the Jets, and that's where Rodgers ended up.
What's next for the other Packers and Jets quarterbacks?
Let's finish by discussing the two young quarterbacks impacted by this trade. For Jordan Love, a path is clear to a starting role in Green Bay. The only other quarterback on the roster is Danny Etling, so Love won't have much competition in camp. The Packers will now pick up Love's fifth-year option for 2024, so he should have at least two years to prove himself after throwing just 83 passes over the past two seasons.
Love is an unknown quantity. He has made one career start, a game against the Chiefs in 2021 where the 24-year-old filled in for Rodgers after the veteran contracted COVID-19. Love went 19-of-34 for 190 yards in a game in which the Packers scored seven points. His numbers were better in mop-up duty in 2022, but most of that came from a 63-yard touchdown pass to Christian Watson where the young wideout generated 53 yards after catch.
All we really know is the Packers continue to see him as their quarterback of the future. Of course, Rodgers was once in the same boat, as he took over for Favre after just 59 pass attempts across his first three seasons. He was impressive enough in his debut season as the starter in 2008 to sign a contract extension during Green Bay's Week 8 bye. The Packers will now hope for a similarly spectacular start from Rodgers' replacement.
By moving up two spots in the first round and adding a second-round pick, the Packers jump ahead of the Patriots, who are likely to consider a left tackle with their selection. Current blindside protector David Bakhtiari has two years left on his deal and has missed 27 games over the past two seasons with injuries. This is a deep class for tight ends, and while No. 13 is probably too early for one, the Packers can use their additional second-rounder to either take a tight end or move up to grab their preferred option at the end of the first round.
As for the Jets, this likely draws an end to the Zach Wilson era. Gang Green needs a backup for Rodgers -- Tim Boyle and Chris Streveler are the other quarterbacks on the depth chart -- but while the organization's decision-makers have talked about Wilson as a future starter, it would be a surprise if the 23-year-old was more than a fill-in for Rodgers this season. The Jets will have to decide on his fifth-year option after the season, a deal they will surely decline barring one of the most stunning turnarounds in NFL history.
There will be interest in Wilson as a reclamation project, but not much. He is owed $9.3 million guaranteed over the next two years, which is more than teams typically want to pay for a quarterback who is essentially starting over. Wilson's penchant for the spectacular in college (and in spare moments as a pro) hints at untapped upside, but the Jets were unable to unlock any semblance of consistency from the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 draft.
If the Jets are willing to eat a few million dollars, they could recoup a late-round pick for Wilson from another team. The Chiefs come to mind as a team that might be willing to see if it can turn around Wilson's career under the right circumstances as a backup to Patrick Mahomes, although not at that $9.3 million price tag. It might be easier to do a deal after 2023 when there will be only one year left on Wilson's deal.
Even by Jets standards, the decision to draft Wilson looks like a disaster. They passed up Justin Fields and Mac Jones, passers who have shown much more as a pro, to take Wilson. Stars at other positions -- Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and Pat Surtain -- also came off the board in the top 10. The Jets surely could have made the same trade the Dolphins made with the 49ers and dealt away their pick for three first-rounders. All of that is a sunk cost now.
The Rodgers era now begins in New York. The Jets have gone more than a decade without a playoff win and a half-century without an MVP vote, but the bar has to be higher when they trade what amounts to a top-10 pick for a 39-year-old quarterback. Anything short of a Super Bowl appearance would be a disappointment over the next two seasons.