Expectations are sky-high for the New York Jets and superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but there's a path in 2023 that could cause the four-time MVP to flop in the Big Apple.
First, it's important to define failure. If it's to lose in the Super Bowl, a lot could go wrong, but it wouldn't be a failure. If the Jets reach .500, that wouldn't be a failure either considering the recent history of franchise.
The Jets haven't had 10 wins since the 2015 season, but given the state of the franchise heading into 2023, going 9-8 that would absolutely be considered a failure by the fans. When Rodgers was asked about turning the franchise around, he made sure to take the pressure off himself.
"I'm an old guy. So, I want to be part of a team that can win it all," Rodgers told reporters during his introductory news conference. "I'm not here to be a savior of any kind."
Rodgers turns 40 years old in December, and after spending 18 years with the Green Bay Packers, the superstar quarterback is finally starting to show some signs of age-related regression. In 2022, he threw the most interceptions since 2010 (12), his touchdowns were cut nearly in half from 2020 (26), he had the least number of yards per game ever since becoming a starter (217.4) and he had the lowest quarterback rating of his entire career as a starter (91.1).
That 2022 season could be considered a sign of decline, or a blip on the radar for a quarterback who came off of MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021. There are excuses to be made for the 39-year-old quarterback, who lost his top weapon in Davante Adams while dealing with a broken thumb throughout the past season.
Generational players usually aren't declining one year out from winning MVP. Tom Brady is the most recent (and likely best) example of this, continuing to play at a high level well into his 40s. In his last year with the New England Patriots, he put up his lowest number of passing yards in nine years, along with the fewest passing touchdowns and yards per game in over 16 years. The next year he won Super Bowl LV.
Generational quarterbacks usually just don't fall off a cliff.
How Could Aaron Rodgers Fail In New York?
New York's offensive line could be the biggest reason why the Rodgers experiment fails for the Jets. Pro Football Focus released their annual offensive line rankings for the 2023-2024 season and the Jets ranked all the way down at No. 23.
While the Jets have some new faces, chemistry takes time, and question marks at both tackle spots are cause for concern. The Jets could have taken a tackle early in the 2023 NFL Draft, but they opted to bulk up their already dominant defense by selecting Will McDonald IV out of Iowa State in the first round.
The Jets have an aging left tackle in Duane Brown, who was once fantastic in his prime but is coming off surgery and nearing the end of his career at 37 years old. He's only played one full season in his entire career which was in 2021 with the Seattle Seahawks. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Brown gave up seven sacks as a full-time starter. In 12 games for the Jets this past season, he only gave up two sacks, four QB hits and 18 hurries.
While Brown played well enough in 2022, his durability issues along with his struggles against the bull rush are cause for concern.
— Pro Football Culture (@proftblculture) October 23, 2022
The clip above is another rep of Brown against the Denver Broncos lats season. Bradley Chubb does a great job faking the stunt and getting through the line. Brown expected his guard to pick up Chubb so he could get then pick up the delayed blitz, but that doesn't happen. While this single collapse wasn't solely on the left tackle, the left guard and Brown haven't had their finest moments.
Left guard Laken Tomlinson is another potential weak point in New York's offensive line. In 2022 PFF shows that he allowed one sack, four quarterback hits and 27 hurries, and when pulling the tape, his struggles showed.
Tomlinson looked like a deer in headlights at times, and according to Football Outsiders their mid/guard and right end positions are the worst in football. Fortunately for the Jets, Rodgers is one of the best passing quarterbacks when outside the pocket. That was even the case in Green Bay when he had one of the better offensive lines in the NFL. During Rodgers' 2020 MVP run, his offensive line was ranked second in the league by PFF metrics. So, in a world where the Jets struggle and Rodgers isn't the same kind of playmaker under center, a struggling offensive line would be the most likely reason he flops.
Even if the offensive line is strong and holds up for Rodgers, it will take time for the Jets receivers to get on the same page with Rodgers. New York may not have the luxury of waiting for the offense to get up to speed in a hyper-competitive AFC East.
The Jets have some tough competition in their first seven weeks of the season, going against the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, and the Philadelphia Eagles during that span. Despite the early tests, the Jets have the 26th toughest schedule in the NFL, per Sharp Football. If it gets rocky early on, expect Rodgers to start calming down the press midway through the season.
Aaron Rodgers has GOT this. pic.twitter.com/i6G6gCMP98
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) January 15, 2017
Rodgers is accustomed to pressure, but now he's with a brand new team and throwing to new receivers. Well, not completely brand-new receivers.
Rodgers brought in Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb this offseason, two of his favorite targets while in Green Bay. When we look at Cobb's history with Rodgers, we have to go all the way back to 2017 to find when he was a real part of his offense, because he hasn't started more than six games since then. Lazard is who brings Rodgers the most comfort, but his own durability concerns and athletic limitations lead to questions about what kind of impact he could have in New York's passing game.
Garrett Wilson will likely be Rodgers' top target this season. While the former Ohio State standout is entering his second year in the league, Wilson has already established himself as a top-tier playmaker. The Jets also went and acquired more speed at the position by signing Mecole Hardman, but he only played in eight games this past season due to an abdominal injury, so the main concern with him is health.
Together, the Jets receiver room looks like a decent group on paper, but the team lacks reliable depth. If receivers aren't all on the same page with Rodgers, the offense can struggle to move down the field, as Packers fans saw with the team this past season.
Aaron Rodgers wanted the over too
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) December 20, 2022
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers went on a five-game losing streak early in the 2022 season, only beating mediocre teams early on.
If the receivers are playing well and everything is running smoothly, the last thing that could lead to the Rodgers' experiment failing is his overall happiness. The 39-year-old took a pay-cut because he was trying to rework his contract. According to Mike Florio from PFT, he was asking questions about ownership equity, and even attempted to buy ownership stake within the Jets organization. Unfortunately for him, the NFL passed a rule just days before that banned any players or employees from owning equity.
This may not be a big deal now, but money is always a big deal in the long run. If things start to crumble with on-field communication early in the season, this could lead to some issues.
While the Jets are now considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders thanks to Rodgers, there are still plenty of ways this season can go south for the franchise and their new superstar quarterback.
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