Aaron Rodgers trade to the Jets hits one-year anniversary

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Happy Aaron Rodgers Day. Yes, the New York Jets still celebrate the future Hall of Fame quarterback's arrival.

On the one-year anniversary of the biggest trade in franchise history, team officials still see plenty of upside even though they have yet to see any on-field results after a left Achilles injury ended Rodgers' season on their first offensive drive.

"We don't have a second-round pick this year, and if I had the choice of having the second-round pick and not having Aaron, I would take Aaron 15 times out of 10," general manager Joe Douglas said.

The Rodgers trade last April 24 fueled hope for a franchise that hasn't make the postseason since 2010 -- the longest playoff drought in the NFL. It changed the narrative surrounding the team, influenced personnel decisions, altered draft strategy, probably saved the jobs of Douglas and coach Robert Saleh and, yes, sparked controversy with his views. In short, his mere presence has engulfed the Jets.

Imagine if he had lasted more than four snaps last season.

"Obviously, the injury was devastating, but we're so excited to have him as part of this franchise," Douglas said. "Just the leadership he brings. I've talked about it -- you probably get sick of me saying it -- but him connecting with his teammates, his presence in the building, he's a great guy."

THE TRADE CAN be evaluated from different angles, but let's start with the most timely and tangible aspect: the draft.

The Jets' second-round pick (No. 41 overall) belongs to the Green Bay Packers, who also received a second-rounder last year as part of the deal.

A silver lining to the injury is that it happened early. If Rodgers had played 65% of the snaps, the Jets' first-rounder Thursday would've gone to Green Bay instead.

The Jets still have a hole in their draft, leaving them with two picks in the first three rounds. If the board falls a certain way, they will consider trading down from No. 10. They probably won't recoup that second-rounder, but they would be happy with another pick in the top 100.

Their first selection, whether it's at No. 10 or another slot, will be made with Rodgers in mind -- either a playmaker (one of the top three wide receivers or Georgia tight end Brock Bowers) or a tackle to bolster their revamped offensive line.

Recognizing that having a 40-year-old quarterback means a limited window, Douglas has shifted his roster-building method to a win-now approach. To wit: He acquired tackles Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses, wide receiver Mike Williams and pass-rusher Haason Reddick -- older players on short-term deals.

Bowers, who averaged nearly one touchdown per game in college (31 in 35 games), is viewed by many talent evaluators as an instant-impact player.

In other words, Rodgers friendly.

If they choose a pass-catcher, it will mark the first time in Rodgers' career (16 seasons as a starter) that he has had a rookie first-rounder at receiver or tight end. The Packers were averse to investing top picks in skill-position talent, causing Rodgers to chafe at times. From Day 1, the Jets have been eager to please him. This would be the grandest gesture of them all, almost symbolic.

It would be an even louder statement if they trade up for a playmaker. The Jets are exploring those options, league sources said. It would be the ultimate win-now move, giving up current (and perhaps future) draft capital to move up for a pass-catcher. Douglas is an aggressive GM, having traded up in the first round in two of his four drafts. In those cases, though, he had multiple first-round picks.

This time, he has a quarterback who shares his desire to win today, not tomorrow. Rodgers showed that last year, returning to practice three months after surgery. He's participating in voluntary workouts and will be ready for training camp.

"I'm not trying to jinx the Jets' fan base, but I was a fan [of the trade] then, and I'm still a fan now," former Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik said. "I think Aaron has three years in him if he wants it, and I think there's more than enough time to have some magic happen for this football team."

The flip side to the trade has left some to believe it has compromised the team's future, having cost them 2023 and 2024 second-round picks. The Jets also might have been stung during last year's draft.

As part of the trade agreement, they swapped first-round picks with the Packers, dropping two spots to No. 15. The New England Patriots, sitting at No. 14, sold their pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers, who jumped up to grab Georgia tackle Broderick Jones -- a player on the Jets' radar. Ex-Patriots coach Bill Belichick has implied in public comments that he made the move, in part, to stick it to his former division rival.

"I don't know that I would do it again," ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller said of the Rodgers trade. "You know what you have in Aaron Rodgers. He's a Hall of Famer. When healthy, he's one of the best in the NFL, but he's 40 years old, he's coming off an Achilles [injury] and the table is not set for the future. Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall are great young players, but outside of them, this is an older offense now. You're going to have to reinvent yourself."

THE ONLY WAY to validate the trade, Miller said, is to win a Super Bowl. The Jets have gone 55 years since their only Super Bowl appearance, which Rodgers famously noted in his introductory news conference last April. Remember his comment about the "lonely" Lombardi Trophy in the showcase?

Because of Rodgers' age and the nature of his injury, the Jets purchased an expensive insurance policy, giving Tyrod Taylor an $8 million guarantee -- one of the biggest for a backup quarterback in the 2024 free agent market. He replaces former first-round pick Zach Wilson, who was traded to the Denver Broncos on Monday.

To help Rodgers' transition last year, the Jets signed five former teammates, including close friend Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard -- both wide receivers. The organization was criticized for allowing Rodgers to dictate personnel moves. None of them worked out, most notably the Lazard signing.

A middle-of-the-road receiver with the Packers, Lazard received a four-year, $44 million contract and wound up getting benched. His name has come up in trade talks, but he will be difficult to move because his $10 million salary is guaranteed.

If the Jets draft a receiver in the first round, it will drop Lazard to fifth on the depth chart.

Interestingly, none of their additions this offseason have previous ties to Rodgers, although that will change if they sign former Green Bay tackle David Bakhtiari. The Jets still have offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who held the same position when Rodgers was in Green Bay and came under heavy scrutiny last season because New York finished 31st in total yards and 29th in scoring.

Rodgers publicly endorsed Hackett late last season, along with Douglas and Saleh. A few days later, owner Woody Johnson did the same, essentially giving them a mulligan for last season's 7-10 record. Had it not been for Rodgers, it's likely that major changes would've been made. Johnson decided to run it back with the same core group, hoping their franchise-altering trade for the four-time MVP will pay dividends a year later.

"It's obviously a make-or-break year for everybody, depending on how the season goes, and I think they all know that," Dominik said.

One year later, the Jets are built for Rodgers and, in some ways, by Rodgers.

After a rough first year -- with Johnson putting the team on notice to turn things around -- the honeymoon is over, but as Douglas noted about Rodgers and their hope that lies with him: "It's great having him back."

Now it's time to see what Year 2 has in store.