The Jets are in the midst of trading for Aaron Rodgers. Yes, they’re finally going to land a star quarterback, which could get them to the Super Bowl for the first time in over half a century.
Or…are they? Or will the San Francisco 49ers swoop in, land the future Hall of Famer before a deal is struck, and essentially end the Jets’ 2023 season before it starts?
It’s certainly a possibility and one that cannot be overlooked.
You see, the 49ers have a playoff roster just like the Jets do. And a better coaching staff led by one of the NFL’s top offensive minds in Kyle Shanahan. But just like the Jets, the 49ers have glaring question marks at the game’s most important position.
Brock Purdy was supposed to be the 2023 starter after leading the Niners to the NFC Championship in the injury-related absences of Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance. But he suffered a UCL tear during that NFC title game and it’s unclear when he’ll be ready to play. It’s also unclear if Purdy will replicate his heroics from the 2022 season (67.1% completion rate, 13 touchdowns, four picks, and an undefeated record through five regular-season starts). He was the 2022 draft’s Mr. Irrelevant for a reason.
Lance was supposed to be the face of the franchise when the 49ers drafted him third overall back in 2021. But he was hardly ready to play his rookie year and missed virtually all of last season with an ankle injury. And according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, other teams are interested in Lance, with the 49ers having already fielded calls.
And Garoppolo is now a Raider. Which leaves Sam Darnold, one of the biggest draft busts of the last five years, the only quarterback left on the roster.
Shanahan has reached the NFC Championship three of the last four seasons. He reached Super Bowl 54 back in 2020 and blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. He’s one of the top head coaches in the NFL but doesn’t have a Lombardi Trophy to show for it. He needs to get over that hump, and it’s hard to imagine Darnold is a starting quarterback, Lance will remain healthy, or Purdy will return to his 2022 form.
Shanahan needs a star quarterback just as much as Jets head coach Robert Saleh does.
Rodgers can be that star quarterback. And he might be even more intrigued to play with an offensive-minded head coach in the warm weather of Cali, where he grew up and played college ball at Cal Berkeley.
Sure, the Jets have a talented core of receivers in Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, and Mecole Hardman. Sure, the Jets sport one of the top defenses in the NFL. Sure, the Jets likely plan to beef up the offensive line in the draft, which would certainly benefit Rodgers.
But the 49ers are just as intriguing, if not more. With one of the best receivers, tight ends, and running backs in the game in Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey, respectively. Plus wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and a rock-solid left tackle in Trent Williams, one of the league’s top blindside blockers. Plus a head coach who’s run a top-seven offense each of the last two years despite inconsistencies under center.
Do you think Rodgers is oblivious to all of that? And do you think just because Jets general manager Joe Douglas insists Rodgers is going to be in Florham Park that it’s going to stop another potential Super Bowl contender from pursuing arguably the most talented quarterback of all time?
The answer to either question is no; the 49ers could definitely still be in play for Rodgers’ services.
A trade would still need to get done though. Trade compensation would still need to be agreed upon and the Niners don’t have a first- or second-round pick this year. Plus the financials (Rodgers has a lofty contract that owes him $60 million next season).
But last month, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst suggested Green Bay doesn’t necessarily need a first-round pick in a Rodgers trade. And the 49ers own a trio of 2023 third-rounders (No. 99, 101, and 102). So a package including any of those picks plus possibly a 2024 first-rounder, if Gutekunst needs some more swaying, could work.