The 2023 NFL season for the New York Jets will go down in sports history as arguably one of the greatest what-if scenarios – What if Aaron Rodgers never ruptured his Achilles?
Would the Jets have broken their 12-year playoff drought, or better yet, would the Jets have made their long awaited return to the Super Bowl as predicted by mentalist Oz Pearlman in an early episode of HBO’s "Hard Knocks"?
It is hard to say.
New York was officially eliminated from playoff contention after a brutal beatdown by the divisional rival Miami Dolphins on Sunday, marking their 13th straight season out of the playoffs – the longest active streak in the league.
Constant inconsistency on offense and a struggling young quarterback have led to another woeful outcome for the organization.
With just three games left on the schedule, here is a look back on Rodgers’ journey to New York and the events that followed.
Rodgers had spent all of his career playing with the Green Bay Packers, and it looked like he would finish it there as well. However, reports of discontent between Rodgers and leadership began brewing during the 2021 offseason. He officially became a holdout when he skipped out on organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp, but he would return to the field and would eventually earn his fourth league MVP award.
He returned for another season., but missed the playoffs, and it seemed that the idea of moving on to another team or retiring altogether had returned.
In February, Rodgers revealed on the "The Pat McAfee Show" that he would make a decision on his future in the NFL after getting clarity from an "isolation retreat."
"I think it’s going to be important to get through this week and to take my isolation retreat and just to be able to contemplate all things, my future, and then make a decision I feel like is best for me moving forward and the highest interest of my happiness."
At the time, the Jets had made it clear that they were on the hunt for a veteran quarterback to add to the mix as Zach Wilson continued to struggle in his second year with the team.
Weeks had gone by, reports speculated and fans in Green Bay and New York held their breath; but nothing had happened.
Then, during another appearance on the "The Pat McAfee Show," Rodgers said that his "intent" was to play for the Jets next season but that no deal had been worked out between the two sides.
He also said that heading into his darkness retreat, he was "90%" leaning toward retirement and "10%" sure he wanted to return to playing. However, something changed.
"I was interested in where [the Packers] would be at mentally, and everything that I was told in the week that I was in Green Bay was, ‘Take as long as you want, and we want you to retire a Packer. You want to come back and play, obviously the door is wide open.’ So that was the information I was going on. Now, when I came out of the darkness, something changed. I’m not exactly sure what that was, but something changed," he said.
"It was clear to me at that point that, although the Packers were going to say the right thing publicly, they were ready to move on."
More than a month after announcing his intentions, Rodgers had finally been traded to the Jets.
"This is a surreal day for me, after spending 18 years in the same city," Rodgers said during his introductory press conference on April 26. "I’m here because I believe in this team, I believe in Coach (Robert) Saleh, I believe in the direction of Joe Douglas. Obviously, he’s drafted really well the last couple of years having the Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year. A big thanks to the Jets organization. Obviously, a big thanks to the Green Bay Packers organization for an incredible run. That chapter is over now, and I’m excited about the new adventure here in New York. So, I’ll open it up to questions now."
The Jets also acquired a 2023 first-round pick and fifth-round pick in exchange for a 2023 first-round, second-round, and sixth-round pick. The Packers also received a conditional 2024 second-round pick that would become a first if Rodgers played 65% of the snaps this season.
An electric crowd at MetLife Stadium cheered as Rodgers, for the first time in his nearly two-decade-long career, ran onto the field carrying an American flag and wearing an unfamiliar No.8 jersey.
However, dreams of hoisting the Lombardi trophy for the first time since 1969 came to a screeching halt when just four plays into his debut, Rodgers went down. Wilson’s new designation as backup quarterback was quickly shed, and he assumed his familiar role as starter, leading the Jets to a thrilling overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills.
However, the diagnosis was in, and it confirmed the worst – Rodgers would be out for the season with a ruptured Achilles.
"I’m completely heartbroken and moving through all of the emotions, but deeply touched and humbled by the support and love," Rodgers said in a post on social media. "Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I begin the healing process today. The night is darkest before the dawn. And I shall rise yet again."
Rodgers wasted no time in attacking his rehab. Less than a month after his injury, he returned to MetLife on crutches to watch the Jets take on the defending Super Bowl champions. The following week, he was seen throwing passes during warm-ups. From there, he continued his return to the sideline and, eventually, the practice field.
However, Rodgers’ return would ultimately be decided by where the Jets stood in their hunt for the playoffs by the time he would be medically cleared.
On Tuesday, with the Jets eliminated from playoff contention, Rodgers delivered the bad news. He also offered some good news.
"If I was 100% today I would definitely be pushing to play, but the fact is I’m not," Rodgers said on "The Pat McAfee Show." "I’ve been working hard, but I’m still 14 weeks tomorrow from my surgery and at 14 weeks out, that’s just not realistic."
"I don’t think next year will be my last. I wanted at least two years," he added. "I feel like this year has been kind of a lost year now that I’ve only played a couple of snaps and wasn’t able to go out there and prove what I’m capable of and see what we’re capable of as a team."