FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Nathaniel Hackett walked into the Jets team auditorium and sat down in one of the first seats he could find, in the front row, and had a moment to himself. He looked up at the stage in front of him, lined with shrubbery, a lectern, and a table with three microphones. Above was a spotlight, showing Aaron Rodgers career highlights, some of his best shots in a long tenure with the Packers.
Hackett shook his head and laughed. Moments later, Rodgers entered the room, flanked by coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, as “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay and the Chainsmokers played on the loudspeakers.
The chorus: I want something like this.
The Jets dreamed of Rodgers doing for them what he did for the Packers. They wanted matter, for the very first time. This is also what Rodgers wants. When he walked through the main lobby of the Jets facility for the first time on Wednesday, two days after the Packers agreed to trade him, he noticed a shiny object sitting alone in a trophy case, from the Super Bowl. III. That was the last time the Jets won it all, in 1969. They’ve spent the better part of the last 54 years struggling to reach that standard, to reach relevance.
Wednesday was the first step back in that direction. The Jets dreamed big – and their dreams came true.
“That Super Bowl III trophy looks a little lonely,” Rodgers, sporting a Jets polo shirt, said with a smile.
At the end of his press conference, Rodgers held up a Jets jersey, No. 8, with his name on the back.
Yes, it is real.
“I like to daydream and dream at night too,” Rodgers told a scrum of reporters after his press conference. “It’s fun to think about this place. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here to be a palliative and have a mediocre season. I want all. There are a few iconic franchises in the league, lots of great franchises, but only a few iconic ones. And this is one. It’s because of the players, (like) Joe Willie Namath. … It’s time for this team to get back to where it needs to be and that’s competing for the championships.
Rodgers is a spiritual person. He believes in following the wind where it blows. He lets the universe tell him what to do, where to go, how to be. He retired in obscurity for four days earlier this year, cut off from the world, 90% certain he wanted to retire after 18 years with the Packers. When he did and he felt Green Bay no longer wanted him, his mind wandered. How would it feel to wear another uniform? The Jets had hired Hackett, his close friend and former Packers coach, as their offensive coordinator, which he liked. Then Saleh, Hackett, Douglas and owner Woody Johnson flew to California to meet Rodgers. They talked for five hours, and then Rodgers found clarity.
That’s what he wanted: the New York Jets. Imagine that.
“Everything fell into place and it was the Jets, and only the Jets, for me,” Rodgers said. “At that moment, I felt like this was where I needed to be. I really try to listen to the signs and the synchronicities that the universe puts on our faces every day and that was the direction everything was pointing. There are lots of reasons for this, but it’s exciting that this is actually a reality now.
Between the two, there was a negotiation, which lasted longer than expected – Packers or Jets – a trade that was not concluded until more than a month after Rodgers publicly declared his intention to play for the Jets. Nobody on either side — Rodgers or the Jets — ever wavered on the plan to get him. It was never not will happen.
“It was obvious… where we were going and what we needed to do, and we did it,” Johnson said.
Saleh said he never feared it would fall apart, even as rumors of the 49ers being involved began to swirl. When Rodgers first walked through the doors of the Jets, Saleh dapped himsmiling as if he had just won the lottery.
“Seeing him walk through the building, to me, it was like, Shit, he’s there,” Saleh said, and then outlined how far the Jets have come since being hired in January 2021.
“If someone had asked if Aaron Rodgers could be your quarterback two years ago, I would have laughed in his face,” Saleh said. “We have come a long way. Now, what we do with it is up to us.
Rodgers quickly got comfortable, walking into a meeting and “walking barefoot,” Saleh said. Rodgers intends to stay and participate in voluntary off-season training in the days and weeks to come, the surest sign of his commitment to his new team.
Maybe not just for this year either, as many have speculated. The door is ajar for more.
“I think so, really,” Rodgers said. “They definitely gave up some picks for me to be here, so it’s not a done thing in my mind. It is a commitment. But that’s only just started with this season. I want to be present and not talk about future things.
Rodgers has confirmed he will restructure his contract to make it friendlier as well, which should impact the cap in 2023 and 2024 – another sign he could stay.
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The offense is built in his image – a true collaboration between Rodgers and Hackett. Rodgers called Hackett “one of my favorite offensive minds I’ve ever worked with.” And Hackett said: “We’re already close and we talk about football all the time…there’s so much about the game that we love, and we see it through the same lens.”
Rodgers will have his fingerprints all over the Jets’ new offense, what they do and how they operate. He passionately defended Zach Wilson and plans to take him under his wing. He’ll make sure wide receivers, tight ends and running backs know what they’re doing. Rodgers, he insists, isn’t just here to cash a paycheck and retire.
“He’s a player and he’s also really a coach,” Johnson said. “He knows exactly what he wants.”
Rodgers is all in.
“I want to put my stamp on the attack, the locker room and let the guys know what the expectations will be,” Rodgers said. “It’s time for all of us to set the appropriate expectations about this team. As I said last year after playing (the Jets): it’s not the “same old Jets”.
“This is a team that has a legitimate opportunity to do something special this year. So let’s manifest our words with the desire of our hearts and the potential that we see in each other. I’m going to start doing that this week. I believe we have something special here and now we all need to believe in it.This is the first step to achieving your goals – you must first believe deeply in what you are doing and believe in the possibility.
The possibilities. That’s what makes Rodgers most excited about this opportunity, his first in the NFL outside of Wisconsin. He grew up in a small town in Northern California and lived in Green Bay for 18 years, wondering what life in a big city would be like. He remembers moving to Berkeley, California for college in 2003, living in a filthy fraternity house. Even then, it felt like “a new chapter, a new adventure,” he said. “There was that kind of deep sigh that you take when all is well in the world, adventure and travel are so unknown and mysterious. That’s the beauty of life, because you don’t know what’s going happen in the future.
After arriving at his New Jersey hotel on Tuesday night, he unpacked his clothes, lay down and tried to sleep, distracted “thinking how special this new opportunity is, just to enjoy it.”
If Rodgers could bottle up how he felt, he would. Before leaving the press conference room, he paraphrased a line from “The Office”, his favorite show.
I wish they’d told you you were in the good old days before they left them.
“There’s a lot of wisdom to that and to appreciating how special this moment is today,” Rodgers said, “and how this journey is going to be.”
The Jets feel it too.
(Picture: Elsa/Getty Images)