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There’s Still a Silver Lining for Gang Green Despite Aaron Rodgers’ Injury

There’s no sugarcoating that losing the four-time NFL MVP will hurt the New York Jets, but there’s still a way forward for this team — let’s explain.

Four plays and 75 seconds of game time were all it took for the most anticipated debut in New York Jets history to instantly shift from optimistic anticipation to colossal calamity.

That’s the time it took for Aaron Rodgers to fall awkwardly on the wet new MetLife Stadium turf, tearing his Achilles tendon in the process and ending his season. The Green Bay Packers legend and four-time NFL MVP turns 40 on Dec. 2, making it plausible that he never plays again given the difficult rehab process from this injury that would be daunting for an elite athlete at any age.

Rodgers’ injury means 2021 No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson is taking over as starting quarterback, a bad omen considering he’s shown no signs of being a quality NFL QB over his first two-plus seasons. FanDuel‘s Jets odds reflect this downgrade, with Super Bowl odds going from +1400 to +6500, AFC East winner odds going from +270 to +550, and playoff odds rising to +205.

But despite the disheartening Aaron Rodgers injury — whose costs we’re certainly not here to downplay — there are nonetheless some silver linings for Gang Green moving forward.

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The April Rodgers trade saw New York and Green Bay swap 2023 first-round NFL Draft picks, give the Packers 2023 second- and fifth-round picks, while the Jets received a 2023 sixth. However, there’s also a conditional 2024 second-rounder in the mix that would have turned into a first had Rodgers played 65% of the Jets’ 2023 snaps.

So, New York now gets to keep its top selection next season, an important building block for an impressively constructed roster — especially if they decide to go all-out for their next franchise quarterback.

Rodgers’ restructured contract, as agreed on Aug. 1, fully guaranteed him $75 million at time of signing unless he were to retire prematurely, a sum that would amount to about $1 million per second on the field if he indeed never plays again. It was some smart injury insurance for AR12, whose career earnings are No. 1 in the league among active players.

There’s no reason to give up on the season just yet, of course, as there’s a reason why the Jets were still able to beat a Super Bowl contender like the Buffalo Bills on Monday despite Rodgers’ absence: Their defense. The unit finished 2022 ranked No. 2 in the league in yards allowed per play, No. 3 in total passing yards allowed, and No. 7 in total sacks. New York forced four Josh Allen turnovers, including three interceptions by safety Jordan Whitehead alone, already triggering a $250,000 incentive bonus.

On the offensive side of the ball, wide receiver Garrett Wilson won the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award last season, and running back Breece Hall looks even better than before he tore his ACL in 2022, busting out an early 83-yard run that was the franchise’s longest rushing play since 1994.

Jets management said Wilson will be the starter moving forward, but the rest of the team and its loyal, tortured fan base deserve better. Whether it’s a trade for Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett, Cooper Rush, or Ryan Tannehill or signing a veteran free agent like Nick Foles, Joe Flacco, Carson Wentz, or new CBS analyst Matt Ryan, New York needs to bring someone in to either push Wilson or take over when he inevitably falters. It has roughly $10 million in cap space to improve under center.

The extent to which MetLife’s new turf field possibly contributed to Rodgers’ injury is a scorchingly hot topic, with new NFLPA Executive Director Lloyd Howell calling for all 30 stadiums to convert to natural grass to reduce injury risk, a longer discussion for another column. There’s still hope, however, that with the right QB in place, a stout defense, and a running game led by Hall and former Pro Bowler Dalvin Cook, the Jets do have a shot at making the playoffs for the first time since 2010, the longest active postseason drought across the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

It won’t be easy, with Sharp Football Analysis grading the Jets’ strength of schedule eighth-toughest in the league last week based on projected opponent win totals, a daunting slate that includes a Week 2 trip to Dallas on Sunday. Aaron Rodgers’ Gang Green career may sadly have ended before it had a chance to get off the ground, but to say that all is suddenly lost for the Jets would be strongly premature.

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