Aaron Rodgers could come back this season. But should he?

<span>Photograph: Gary A Vasquez/USA Today Sports</span>
Photograph: Gary A Vasquez/USA Today Sports

Want to hear something kooky? Aaron Rodgers still has not officially ditched the idea of playing for the New York Jets this season. Teammates spotted him on Monday at the Jets’ complex in Florham Park getting treatment on the left achilles tendon that he blew out less than three months ago, a mere four plays into his 19th NFL season.

Rodgers told Pat McAfee on his ESPN radio show Tuesday that two factors would drive his decision to return in 2023: “It’s [my] health, first,” Rodgers said, and, “Are we alive, second?” as in, would the Jets be in contention for a playoff berth when he was ready to play in a game. A return is unlikely – but not out of the question, either.

The Jets (4-7) have lost four games in a row to plummet out of postseason contention, two games behind the Indianapolis Colts, who hang on to the final AFC wildcard spot. Robert Saleh, the Jets’ head coach, has already announced that Tim Boyle, the 29-year-old journeyman, will again start at quarterback on Sunday against Atlanta.

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Boyle replaced Zach Wilson, whom the Jets took with the second choice in the 2021 draft – but was so lousy in his first two seasons that the Jets acquired the 39-year-old Rodgers in a trade with the Green Bay Packers. Wilson (let alone Boyle) was not supposed to play quarterback for the Jets this season. This was to be Rodgers’s job. His team.

Rodgers is in the first year of a three-year, $112.5m contract, so the Jets did not just pick him up for a retirement tour. The loss of Rodgers was so catastrophic to the Jets’ 2023 plans that Saleh and Nathaniel Hackett, the decidedly unpopular offensive coordinator, are expected to return in 2024 for what would pretty much be regarded as a mulligan.

It would be astonishing if Rodgers were to return this year, given that NFL players who rupture their achilles tendons need between nine and 12 months to recover. Consider his protection upfront: the Jets have used eight different combinations of offensive linemen in 11 games. Who would place a graying quarterback coming off serious injury behind those guys?

Even though six games remain, it is much more likely that Rodgers won’t return to action this season. “Even [the Jets] aren’t stupid enough to let that happen,” an NFL general manager, wanting to remain anonymous, told the Washington Post this week. But Rodgers has not ruled himself out for 2023, teasing along the storyline.

So teammates like CJ Mosley, the veteran Jets’ linebacker, find themselves answering questions about Rodgers returning this year. How amazing would that be? Rodgers not only can throw for 59,000 yards and win a Super Bowl – and can defy nature itself! Rodgers is expected to stay with the team full-time now, rather than doing some rehabilitation in California.

On Monday, Mosley said of Rodgers’s recovery, “Nobody has ever seen anything like this. You can just look at the process and where he’s at now with the injury and just be happy for him, be glad that he’s able to walk, be glad that he’s even in this position to try to play football again, especially this early.

“As a friend and as a teammate, I’m just happy to see him healthy, see him smile and see him having a pep in his step, which is crazy. But when it comes to the football stuff, you know, that’s God’s will, and if that’s the way it’s going to work out, then I’ll definitely be happy with it.”

Rodgers can disclose anything he wants about his rehabilitation. The most recent update came Sunday, when Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, citing a source, said Rodgers hoped to resume practicing as early as this week, with the idea of playing in the Jets’ home game on Christmas Eve against the Washington Commanders, another dead-in-the-water team.

“At the very least, if Aaron Rodgers returns this year, it gives the #Jets offense a jump on next season,” Rapoport posted on X. “Everyone is expected back, so every bit helps.”

Rapoport’s source said Rodgers “just needs to bring us the doctor’s note,” meaning documentation that somehow shows Rodgers is not damaging himself, before the Jets sign off on his decision. Considering the millions of dollars the Jets have invested in Rodgers, his return surely won’t be as simple as that. But the Amazing Aaron Rodgers Comeback still has legs.

So he still gets a lot of face time. The TV cameras caught Rodgers in a cap, khaki hoodie and black pants on the field before Friday’s hapless 32-6 loss at home to Miami, zipping 15-yard passes to a Jets staffer.

Of course, returning to practice is far from returning to game action. It is possible that Rodgers pulls on the helmet and pads and resumes working out with his teammates, only to decide (or have it decided for him) that his return to a real game would best be done in 2024.

And just imagine if Rodgers, who turns 40 this Saturday, came back sometime later in the month – only to crumple to the turf again holding his left ankle, or, maybe even worse, sustaining an injury to another part of his body. The Jets, who have the longest current NFL playoff drought at 12 seasons, would never hear the end of it.

Any NFL fan wants the quarterback of their favorite team to brim with confidence, but Rodgers, perhaps unintentionally, is sending the wrong message here. This is not just all about him. Just for fun, suppose Boyle, or even Wilson, somehow leads the Jets to victory against Atlanta, Houston and Miami. Why should the Jets change QBs then?

OK, the Jets putting together a three-game winning streak at this point of the season is unlikely. So there is only the tiniest of chances that the Jets will be in playoff contention on 24 December. There is nothing wrong with Rodgers wanting to play football again, as soon as possible. But at the moment he looks as if he is placing himself above his new team, risking an injury that would see them stuck with someone like Wilson or Boyle. That is not good for the Jets at large.