Let’s give the New York Jets credit for this: They didn’t panic and they didn’t jump.
Former free agent Derek Carr met with the franchise twice about trying to turn a very promising 7-10 team into a playoff team.
Carr was undoubtedly a nice fit — a good, and occasionally very good, veteran quarterback who could offset the failures of Zach Wilson last year and ride the defense to a big season. He wasn’t, however, the best possible acquisition, the one that could conceivably turn Gang Green into a legit AFC contender.
That would be Aaron Rodgers.
The Jets likely could have found a way to make it work with Carr. They could have thrown themselves at a QB who always felt a measure of unwantedness in Las Vegas. They could have doled out a big contract.
Instead, they tried to play the long game and wait for Rodgers to finish his darkness retreat and podcast tour and make a decision on his future.
It cost them Carr, who agreed to terms Monday with New Orleans on a four-year deal. It kept hope alive, however, of Rodgers actually leaving the Green Bay Packers and coming to New York.
Time will tell whether that was a mistake. But even if Rodgers decides to retire, force a trade elsewhere or even stay in Green Bay — thus leaving the Jets on Plan C — the motivation and thought process that got New York there was sound.
Carr is good. Rodgers is potentially great.
New York hasn’t been to the playoffs in a dozen years. He’s worth the risk.
And if Rodgers doesn’t happen, well, there are Carr-esque backup options that includes Jimmy Garoppolo to even a wild franchise overhaul featuring a massive trade for Lamar Jackson. The next step might not be too much of a step down. New York can deal with that if necessary.
Right now, it is Rodgers or bust. Right now, it’s about standing pat and waiting for Rodgers to make up his mind about the future, while working with Green Bay on terms that could make a deal work if it comes to that.
Rodgers turns 40 in December and is coming off a season where he threw just 26 touchdowns against 12 interceptions and the Pack missed the playoffs. Still, there is plenty of game still to be tapped there, at least if Rodgers wants to tap it.
He would bring a level of talent, star power and been-there, check-out-my-pile-of-MVPs leadership that the Jets are sorely lacking. If he commits to working with players in the offseason (no guarantee there) he could have an enormous impact immediately.
The Jets have a young defense that speaks to being a true contender. Defensive rookie of the year cornerback Sauce Gardner, linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams were all named to an All-Pro team. They allowed an average of just 18.6 points per game last year, fourth-best in the league.
The problem is they scored an average of just 17.4 points a game (29th out of 32 team in the league). QB was the issue, namely former second overall draft pick Wilson struggling to develop. Yet Rodgers will find some positives there, including an offensive rookie of the year in wide receiver Garrett Wilson.
Is a young, exciting team in the nation’s media capital enough to keep Rodgers playing? Or does the idea of taking on the daunting AFC, where the Jets wouldn’t even be favored to win their division (Buffalo) let alone get past Cincinnati or Kansas City, make him head in another direction?
No one knows for sure. Rodgers has promised a decision soon because he says he doesn’t want to drag this out, but, of course, he tends to drag it out each offseason.
One potential hurdle is trying to afford Rodgers, who will be owed close to $60 million next season. Maybe Green Bay will have to chip in. Or maybe (not likely) Rodgers reworks things.
Only Rodgers knows. Perhaps.
If he comes to New York, then all of this is worth it. ESPN reported Carr was leaning toward the Jets, so they probably could have had him if they wanted him or thought it was the only option. If so, the decision by the Jets to let Carr walk away suggests some confidence that the deal for Rodgers is still possible.
So now they wait on Rodgers, with the belief that no matter what, there is a quarterback option out there that will be an upgrade over Wilson.
If it all blows up on them and there isn’t, well, at least they pushed for the big catch.
When you’ve been down as long as New York has without a winner, you have to at least appreciate the bold effort.