Joe Douglas, Aaron Rodgers and Woody Johnson / USA TODAY Sports/SNY Treated Image
The gentle from the tv was all that illuminated the room. It was a lullaby of types for Joe Douglas, drowsing on his sofa just a few ft in entrance. His spouse Shannon, together with youngsters Addison, Leighton and Thomas, had lengthy since retreated upstairs. Douglas’ lone companion was his cellular phone, resting on his chest, rising and falling with every deep breath.
It had been every week for the Jets common supervisor and the crew. First, he was in Indianapolis for the NFL Combine. That’s the place he realized buying quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a definite chance. He then flew residence to Chatham, N.J., solely to get again on a airplane a day later, this time to California to fulfill with Rodgers at his Malibu residence. Now, he was again in Chatham, ready on bated breath to search out out if Rodgers needed the Jets as a lot because the Jets needed him, or if the crew’s seek for a quarterback wanted to go down a special path.
That go to with Rodgers was 4 days in the past, and Douglas nonetheless had no concept what was to return. He was on edge, tense. Any sleep, regardless of the place it got here, was a blessing. And at this level, his sofa in entrance of the TV felt like a seashore chair on a summer season shoreline.
Then, round midnight, Douglas woke when his cellphone buzzed. It was an incoming name from Dave Dunn of Athletes First, the agent for Rodgers.
He answered. The phrases Douglas heard might very effectively have redirected the course of the franchise.
Aaron’s going to be a Jet.
Aaron Rodgers waves to somebody throughout his introductory information convention with the Jets. / Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
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It wasn’t a straightforward determination. In hindsight, it doesn’t appear to be it was the correct one. It was, although, not less than on the time, what the Jets felt was in one of the best curiosity of their crew.
The 2020 season was one of many worst in franchise historical past. The reward? The No. 2 choose within the NFL Draft. No, that wasn’t ok to pick out phenom Trevor Lawrence, however Clemson’s golden-locked passer wasn’t the one quarterback within the class.
The Jets had their alternative of comfort prizes. There was Ohio State’s Justin Fields. There was North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. There was Alabama’s Mac Jones. There was BYU’s Zach Wilson. Or, there was the choice, favored by some within the constructing.
New York may commerce the choice for a large haul and run it again with Sam Darnold, the previous No. 3 total choose whose struggles throughout his first three years had been largely attributed to the shortage of expertise round him.
Again: It wasn’t a straightforward determination. To assist make it, Douglas took a special strategy. He imagined Darnold was among the many listing of gamers he may draft. He then scouted all in a vacuum. At the conclusion, he posed himself a query: Who would I choose?
Darnold obtained the nod over Fields, Lance and Jones, however issues had been totally different with Wilson. Douglas noticed a participant with elite arm expertise who may throw from so many various angles. Wilson didn’t want an ideal pocket to have success – he appeared to enhance when issues bought muddy. There was additionally a transparent means to work by way of progressions, accuracy in any respect three ranges, and even some next-level wow throws. The tape was good. Really, actually good.
Douglas’ conclusion, he wrote: He’d draft him over Darnold.
So, on April 29, 2021, the Jets did.
But now it was January of 2023.
The Jets believed, and nonetheless do to some extent, that Wilson will be their franchise quarterback. But his first two seasons had been considered as a failure. Instead of taking a leap in 2022, Wilson graded out final amongst 39 qualifying quarterbacks to play not less than 20 p.c of their crew’s snaps, per ProFootballFocus, with a 46.5 offensive grade. Internally, teammates, coaches and staffers knew they couldn’t constantly win with Wilson. It’s why, on two separate events his sophomore 12 months, they turned to somebody apart from a wholesome Wilson to assist save their season.
The draft is an inexact science — an “educated crap shoot,” former Jets head coach Todd Bowles as soon as mentioned completely. It’s why Wilson will not be an anomaly, however the norm.
The Jets had been already eradicated from the playoffs earlier than their season finale in opposition to the Dolphins this 12 months. That stung all who had been concerned, contemplating New York’s 6-3 begin. So, earlier than the sport, chairman Woody Johnson, head coach Robert Saleh, Douglas, assistant common supervisor Rex Hogan, and president Hymie Elhai sat collectively attempting to determine what went improper. What may they do to take that subsequent step as a corporation?
Unanimously, they reached the identical conclusion: The Jets had a championship-level protection, playmakers littered at their talent positions, and an offensive line that, when wholesome, was above common.
Basically, they’d every thing however the quarterback.
It would have been straightforward for possession to take the choice out of Douglas and Saleh’s arms and drive them to discover a technique to make it work with Wilson. After all, it was these two who decided Wilson was well worth the second total choose. Seldom is one other at-bat granted after a strikeout like that.
Instead, Douglas and Saleh obtained the Johnsons’ blessing to make one other run. They would have the free vary to pursue whoever they needed to pursue, then the sources (monetary, draft compensation in a commerce, or each) to amass the participant they believed may get them the place they needed to be. The solely factor Woody and Christopher Johnson cared about was successful. They had been keen to do no matter it took to win.
So, if that meant buying a quarterback, effectively, then it was time to go get him.
Apr 26, 2023; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh smiles in the course of the introductory press convention for New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (not pictured) at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. / Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
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Exhaustive doesn’t really start to explain it. The Jets tasked a few of their most essential decision-makers (Douglas, Saleh, Hogan, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, director of participant personnel Chad Alexander, director of professional personnel Greg Nejmeh) with evaluating 19 potential quarterbacking choices for the 2023 season. These had been guys from whom they might signal or commerce. They then separated these quarterbacks into three tiers.
Tier 1: Players who would have the Jets competing for a Super Bowl.
Tier 2: Players who would have the Jets within the playoffs.
Tier 3: Players who would make the Jets barely higher, however not nearer to their final purpose.
There had been few in that first tier. Rodgers was there. So too was Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and L.A.’s Matthew Stafford. The Jets studied the latter two, however it wasn’t lengthy earlier than it turned clear Jackson wasn’t leaving the Ravens and the Rams recommitted to Stafford. Even nonetheless, although, Rodgers was amongst those that fascinated New York probably the most.
The Jets knew he was older (turned 39 in December) and so they knew he was coming off a statistically down 12 months (8-9 document, 64.6 completion share, 3,695 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 12 interceptions), however the extra they studied, the extra they attributed his points to a thumb damage suffered in opposition to the Giants in Week 5 that by no means really recovered.
But, get him wholesome? Keep him upright? Give him confirmed receivers? The Jets had been hellbent of their conviction he’d compete for a fifth Most Valuable Player award. Put that caliber of participant on their roster, and, in a single day, they’d change into a crew able to not simply competing, however successful a Super Bowl.
That’s why any pursuit of Rodgers was much less about his means, and extra about how practical buying him was. There had been so, so many variables at play — all of which threatened to derail an acquisition at numerous factors this offseason.
Did he nonetheless wish to play? Douglas felt he did. He watched Green Bay’s playoff-eliminating Week 18 loss to the Lions. He didn’t really feel like Rodgers was completed as he noticed him stroll off the sphere.
Did he wish to return to Green Bay? Douglas had an concept on this one, too. The means his arm rested on Randall Cobb whereas leaving Lambeau Field, the best way he appeared to take every thing in, he thought he noticed a participant who needed to begin a brand new chapter.
But did he wish to play for the Jets? That was one thing Douglas, nonetheless in a funk after the best way the season ended, couldn’t decipher.
So, he known as Packers common supervisor Brian Gutekunst.
It was exploratory — nothing too deep or too lengthy. Gutekunst made it clear he didn’t know what was going to occur, and that Rodgers and the Packers had been nonetheless working by way of some issues.
He did say, although, that he was underneath the assumption that if Rodgers needed to proceed to play, the Jets had been among the many groups he’d wish to play for.
Randall Cobb and Aaron Rodgers / Wm. Glasheen/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin / USA TODAY NETWORK
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Rodgers was the Jets’ high choice as a result of there was a common understanding of what the crew may accomplish with him underneath middle. The Jets considered him as somebody able to including 5 wins to their complete from a 12 months in the past. No different participant got here near that.
But at no level was buying Rodgers a certain factor. It’s among the many causes the Jets refused to consider taking a step past the current. They needed him. Everyone knew that. They by no means let themselves consider they’d him.
So, they ready for Plan B. Atop their second tier of potential quarterbacks was the Raiders’ Derek Carr, adopted carefully by Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill. They genuinely preferred Carr. They believed they might accomplish nice issues with him. That’s why they introduced him to their facility earlier than the NFL Combine. That’s why they wined and dined him. Carr talked about household and soccer with Douglas, bonded with Saleh over golf.
Carr wasn’t Rodgers, however he was fairly rattling good. Just one participant in Jets crew historical past has thrown for 4,000 yards in a season — and that was Joe Namath. Carr has eclipsed that milestone 4 occasions and is a four-time Pro-Bowler for a purpose. Carr, who turned 32 in March, had years of fine ball in entrance of him.
The Jets didn’t wish to give anybody a tune and dance, in order that they made it clear to Carr that they didn’t wish to transfer ahead with any signing till they knew of Rodgers’ plans. However, there was some thought given to simply signing Carr understanding he was the certain factor. Carr needed a deal earlier than free company started. In an ideal world, the Jets would discover out what Rodgers needed earlier than that, and if it wasn’t the Jets, they might absolutely decide to Carr. But the Jets weren’t the one crew pursuing Carr, and he wasn’t going to attend perpetually.
By ready for Rodgers, the Jets risked shedding each Rodgers and Carr.
That’s a giant danger.
The crew decided on the NFL Combine that it was one value taking.
Jets proprietor Woody Johnson sits on the podium in the course of the Aaron Rodgers introductory information convention. / Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
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Conversations between the Jets and Packers had been restricted after their preliminary end-of-season chat. They touched base, however neither aspect actually knew what Rodgers needed. That modified in Indianapolis. Gutekunst approached Douglas and was as frank as he could possibly be, telling the Jets common supervisor that Rodgers coveted New York greater than another vacation spot… if he needed to proceed to play.
That final half is what was so essential. Rodgers wasn’t returning Green Bay’s cellphone calls. The Jets couldn’t speak to Rodgers as a result of he was underneath contract with the Packers. Something wanted to alter if this was going to occur, so Gutekunst gave the Jets permission to talk to Rodgers’ agent.
The Jets did, and people conversations went effectively. So, simply earlier than the tip of the mix, Gutekunst gave the Jets a full week to talk to Rodgers, expiring on March 11.
Douglas first despatched Rodgers a textual content. The two started going forwards and backwards. Saleh gave Rodgers a name. Hackett, too. They had been productive. But Saleh had an concept: Why not, if he’d welcome them, put the telephones down, fly out to California, and meet with Rodgers in particular person? Douglas agreed, so Saleh broached the topic to the quarterback on Monday. On Tuesday, Douglas, Saleh, Elhai and Hackett boarded a personal airplane to California — a visit that took a superb one-and-a-half hours longer due to headwinds. Woody and Christopher Johnson met them there.
The group spent the whole afternoon at Rodgers’ home. There was no elaborate enterprise pitch. Everyone was themselves. They talked about soccer, household, careers, how they bought to the place they’re. Saleh was notably fascinated with Rodgers’ darkness retreat.
It was all going effectively till Rodgers’ safety cameras picked up the paparazzi exterior his door — the primary unintentional leak from the Jets of their pursuit. Rodgers joked with the group, asking in the event that they introduced them. The Jets contingency then left, with pictures of their departure shortly making the rounds on social media.
Saleh, Douglas, Hackett and Elhai grabbed dinner at a Mexican restaurant in Santa Monica. They spent many of the meal rehashing what had simply occurred. All got here away feeling the identical: That went actually, rather well. Wednesday morning, they flew again residence.
Douglas spoke to Rodgers one remaining time earlier than permission expired. The quarterback known as him Friday on his technique to a charity soccer occasion.
Then, days later, got here his wake-up name from Dunn.
Douglas didn’t get again to sleep that night time till 4 a.m. He spent the following hours firing off texts to Saleh, Elhai, and the Johnsons. He didn’t wish to wake them with calls. He needed them to get up within the morning to the information that collectively, they had been in a position to change the course of the crew.
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Because their permission to talk to Rodgers expired that Saturday, the quarterback’s March 15 look on The Pat McAfee Show was the primary time they heard him say himself that his intention was to play for the Jets. They knew it already, however they wanted to listen to it from him.
Now that they did, they figured the remainder can be straightforward. This wasn’t like their failed pursuit of ex-Chiefs wideout Tyreek Hill, who selected the Dolphins as an alternative. Rodgers needed the Jets, and solely the Jets. The Jets needed Rodgers, and solely Rodgers. The Packers already made their determination to maneuver on to Jordan Love, so their solely choice was to commerce Rodgers to the Jets.
It appeared like a commerce — now that everybody knew Rodgers’ thoughts was made up — needs to be straightforward to piece collectively.
It was not.
Rodgers didn’t simply say his intention was to play for the Jets; he was virtually too open and trustworthy. He mentioned he was “90 p.c retired” earlier than his darkness retreat, which spooked a number of the Jets internally. Rodgers additionally criticized the Packers for his or her lack of communication in the course of the offseason, when, from Green Bay’s perspective, it was Rodgers who was avoiding their calls and messages.
Because of this, the Jets had considerations about providing extra in compensation. The Packers, after being dragged publicly by their former quarterback, didn’t care a lot to return off their calls for of two first-round picks. Both sides dug in. Neither was keen to budge.
Considering the primary actual deadline wasn’t till April’s NFL Draft, a standoff started.
That didn’t change till the NFL’s annual assembly, when Douglas and Gutekunst, collectively for the primary time since Indianapolis, had productive conversations. Three weeks later they reconvened once more with a decided effort by each side to get one thing completed.
Apr 26, 2023; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) talks to the media in the course of the introductory press convention at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. / Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
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On April 24, Douglas was in a gathering with Saleh and his coordinators (Hackett, Jeff Ulbrich, Brant Boyer) when his cellphone rang. It was Gutekunst. He seemed across the room and joked that he needed to take the decision from “up north.”
For the subsequent 45 minutes, Douglas and Gutekunst went forwards and backwards. The framework of the deal was already, at this level, principally completed. The remaining level of competition: What share of Rodgers’ enjoying time would make the conditional 2024 choose a first-rounder?
The Packers needed much less. The Jets needed extra. They agreed to separate the distinction.
Douglas known as Woody Johnson, who signed off on the compensation. Then Douglas known as Gutekunst again and informed him to ship over the paperwork.
After, Douglas walked by senior director of soccer administration David Socie’s workplace, who was in the course of a draft assembly with different entrance workplace personnel, and gave the group a thumbs up. He then walked into Saleh’s coordinator assembly, which had continued with out him.
Not a lot wanted to be mentioned, so he saved it transient: We’ve bought a brand new quarterback.
There had been high-fives and laughs. Hugs. This was such a very long time coming that the actual fact it truly got here was virtually unbelievable. Douglas tried to restart the assembly earlier than he realized it was a misplaced trigger.
No one may focus.
Excitement reigned supreme.
Business must proceed tomorrow.
Aaron Rodgers appears down at his No. 8 Jets jersey throughout his introductory information convention. / Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports
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In some methods, seeing is believing. That’s what made Rodgers’ first stroll by way of the doorways of the Atlantic Health Training Facility so highly effective. Things like this don’t normally occur to the Jets. It’s why members of the crew refused to let themselves consider this was truly going to occur till it truly did.
Rodgers, their best choice, was right here — truly right here. And much more essential: It wasn’t as a result of he needed to be. Rodgers needed to be.
This wasn’t pressured. He may have picked retirement. The Raiders would have made a tremendous suitor. If he screamed loudly sufficient, he doubtless may have pressured his technique to the 49ers. The Jets, then, must look elsewhere.
But that didn’t occur. Aaron Rodgers selected to be the brand new quarterback of the Jets.
And, in flip, the Jets didn’t get a man — they bought their man.