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Aaron Rodgers Can Only Do So Much

Aaron Rodgers chatter has overtaken the NFL, the most popular sports enterprise in America, in recent years. Whether it was his MVP-play or eye-popping contract extension or feud with his coach in Green Bay or COVID vaccine skepticism or use of psychedelics or his entry into a darkness retreat this offseason, Rodgers, 39, has given more than enough grist for every sports radio and TV shoutfest across the land.

Now, the future Hall of Fame quarterback and all-time NFL lighting rod is headed to New York City, the media capital of the United States. The Green Bay Packers and New York Jets have agreed to a deal that sends Rodgers along with Green Bay’s first round pick (No. 13 overall) and fifth round pick (No. 170) in the 2023 draft to the Jets in exchange for their 2023 first round pick (No. 15 overall), a 2023 second-round pick (No. 42), a 2023 sixth-round pick (No. 207) and a conditional 2024 second-round pick that becomes a first-round pick if Rodgers plays at least 65% of New York’s offensive snaps this season. Rodgers arrives in the Big Apple just in time to steal New Yorkers’ attention away from this week’s NFL Draft, the New York Knicks’ strong playoff performance, the New York Rangers-New Jersey Devils NHL playoff series, the sudden firings of two prominent cable news anchors, the city’s rat issues, and on and on and on.

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Rodgers has an aptitude for stirring pots. Many Jets fans, however, are just plain giddy that he’ll be wearing green—without Packer gold—this upcoming season. And who can blame them? The team’s latest in a long line of would-be franchise quarterback saviors—Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft—was benched last season, due to poor play. The Jets finished 7-10 in 2022, but have some strong pieces. The team’s defense was ranked No. 4 in the NFL a season ago. Jets wide receiver Garrett Wilson was the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. Another rookie, running back Breece Hall, was on the verge of a breakout campaign before an ACL injury ended his season. Rodgers will reunite with his top target in Green Bay from a year ago, Allen Lazard, who signed a free agent deal with the Jets last month.

Rodgers’ future teammates were giddy as well. Hall changed his Twitter profile to a picture of Rodgers during his college days at Cal. “My Knee feel a lil healthier now,” he wrote, adding a laughing emoji. Although Rodgers had a down year last season—his quarterback rating was his lowest-ever as a starter—many observers were quick to absolve him of most blame: after all, Green Bay lost its top receiver, Davante Adams, to a trade with the Las Vegas Raiders. Rodgers won back-to-back MVP awards in 2021 and 2022. His career is far from shot.

But however much Rodgers has left, he’s bound to disappoint the Jets’ delusional and desperate fan base. I’ve lived in New York City too long and have become all too acquainted with the psyche of Jets fans to believe otherwise.

No matter that the Jets haven’t even reached the postseason since the 2010 season. Jets fans will believe they are owed at least a trip to the Super Bowl, dammit, with an all-time great like Rodgers at the helm. You may have heard that the Jets haven’t played in a Super Bowl, let alone won one, since Broadway Joe Namath guaranteed that the team would upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III back in 1969—54 years ago. If Rodgers leads New York to, say, the AFC Championship game after a decade-plus playoff drought, Jets fans will be dissatisfied. After all, Mark Sanchez brought the Jets to back-to-back AFC Championship Games in the 2009 and 2010 postseasons. If the butt fumble guy can do that, Rodgers has to do better.

No matter that some formidable foes, especially at quarterback, stand in New York’s way. For starters, there’s defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and their generational talent Patrick Mahomes, already a two-time Super Bowl MVP. In New York’s own division, Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills finished 13-3 in 2022, and Buffalo seems like the hard-luck franchise that’s due to finally win its first Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals have played in back-to-back AFC Championship games—and made the Super Bowl two seasons ago. Lamar Jackson is involved in uncomfortable contract talks with his current employer, the Baltimore Ravens, but as of right now, he’s still on that team, and another hurdle for Rodgers in the AFC.

No matter that the Jets have already been down the road of trading for an aging Green Bay Packers legend—and having that move blow up in their faces. In 2008, 38-year-old Brett Favre came to New York with much fanfare. But the Jets didn’t make the playoffs, and he was gone, to Minnesota, the next season, leaving behind a scandal in his wake.

No matter that Jets fans should just know better. Whenever things should go their way, something unspeakable follows. In the 1986 postseason, the Jets were on the verge of upsetting the Cleveland Browns in the AFC divisional playoffs, but a knucklehead roughing-the-passer penalty from pass rusher Mark Gastineau, who used to dance after sacks, swung the game’s momentum. The Jets lost in double overtime. In 1999, the Jets were coming off a strong season in which they reached the AFC title game: a Hall-of-Fame coach, Bill Parcells, had the team primed to contend for a Super Bowl. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde, however, went down with a ruptured Achilles in the first game of the season. The Jets finished 8-8, out of the playoffs; Parcells quit as coach, and Bill Belichick was set to succeed him—before he fled to New England and won six Super Bowls there. Then Favre disappointment. The failed Tim Tebow experiment. The butt fumble.

Welcome to New York, Aaron. Expect all the attention. Happiness, however, may elude you.

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