FLORHAM PARK, NJ — Nathaniel Hackett walked into the Jets’ team auditorium and sat down in one of the first seats he saw, in the front row, and gave himself a moment’s rest. He looked up at the stage in front of him, which was lined with bushes, a lectern and a table with three microphones. Upstairs, there’s a projector, playing highlights from Aaron Rodgers’ career, some of his best throws from his long tenure with the Packers.
Hackett shook his head, and laughed. Moments later, Rodgers entered the room, flanked by coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas, as “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay and the Chainsmokers played over the speakers.
The chorus: I want this.
The Jets dream that Rodger will do for them what he did for the Packers. They like it thing, for the first time in forever. That’s what Rodgers wants too. When he walked into the main lobby of the Jets’ facility for the first time Wednesday, two days after the Packers agreed to trade him, he noticed a shiny object sitting alone in a trophy case, from Super Bowl III. That was the last time the Jets won it all, in 1969. They spent most of the last 54 years struggling to reach that standard, to reach relevance.
Wednesday was the first step back in that direction. The Jets dreamed big — and their dreams came true.
“That Super Bowl III trophy looks pretty sad,” Rodgers, wearing a Jets polo, said with a smile.
After his news conference, Rodgers held up a Jets jersey, No. 8, his name on the back.
Yes, it is true.
“I like to daydream, and I like to dream at night,” Rodgers told a group of reporters after his news conference. “It’s fun to take your mind to that place. That’s why I’m here. I’m not here to be a stopgap and have a mediocre season. I like the whole thing. There are some iconic franchises in the league, a lot of great franchises, but only a few iconic ones. And this is one of them. It’s because of the players, (like) Joe Willie Namath. … It’s time for this team to get back to where it should be and that’s competing for championships.”
Rodgers is a spiritual man. He believes in following the wind where it blows. He lets the universe tell him what to do, where to go, how to be. He went on a four-day retreat into obscurity earlier this year, quitting the world, 90 percent certain he’d come out wanting to retire after 18 years with the Packers. When he did that, and felt that Green Bay no longer wanted him, his mind wandered. What about wearing a different uniform? The Jets hired Hackett, his close friend and a former Packers coach, as offensive coordinator, who appealed to him. Saleh, Hackett, Douglas and owner Woody Johnson then flew to California to meet with Rodgers. They talked for five hours, and then Rodgers found clarity.
This is what he wants — the New York Jets. Imagine that.
“Everything fell into place and it was the Jets, and only the Jets, for me,” Rodgers said. “At that point, I felt like this was the place to be. I really try to listen to the signs and synchronicities that the universe puts in our face every day and this is the direction that everything is pointing. There are many reasons for that, but it is exciting that this is actually a reality now.
In between, there were negotiations, one that dragged out longer than either side — Packers or Jets — expected, a trade that wasn’t completed until more than a month after Rodgers publicly announced his intention to play for Jets. No one on either side — Rodgers or the Jets — ever doubted the plan to acquire him. It is never no will happen
“It was clear … where we were going and what we needed to do, and we did that,” Johnson said.
Saleh said he never feared it would fall apart, even as rumors about the 49ers being involved began to swirl. When Rodgers walked through the doors of the Jets for the first time, Saleh patted himsmiling like he just won the lottery.
“I see him walking in the building, for me, it’s like: Damn, he’s here,” Saleh said, later pointing out how far the Jets have come since he was hired in January 2021.
“If someone asked if Aaron Rodgers could be your quarterback two years ago, I would have laughed in their face,” Saleh said. “We have come a long way. Now what we do with it is up to us.”
Rodgers quickly made himself comfortable, walking into a meeting and “walking around barefoot,” Saleh said. Rodgers intends to stay and participate in voluntary offseason workouts in the coming days and weeks, the surest sign yet that he is committed to his new team.
Maybe not for this year either, as many have speculated. The door is ajar for more.
“I think so, I really do,” Rodgers said. “They actually gave up some picks to get me here, so it’s not a one-and-done in my mind. It is a promise. But this season is just getting started. I want to be there and not talk about things in the future.”
Rodgers has confirmed he will adjust his contract to make it more team-friendly as well, which should affect the cap in both 2023 and 2024 — another sign he could stay.
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The offense was built in his image – a true partnership between Rodgers and Hackett. Rodgers called Hackett “one of my favorite offensive minds I’ve ever been around.” And Hackett said, “We’re close and we talk football all the time … it’s so much about the game that we love, and we see it through the same lens.”
Rodgers will have his fingerprints all over the Jets’ new offense, what they do and how they operate. He passionately defends Zach Wilson and plans to take him under his wing. He’ll make sure the wide receivers and tight ends and running backs know what they’re doing. Rodgers, he insists, isn’t just here to cash in a paycheck and retire.
“He’s a player and he’s also really a coach,” Johnson said. “He really knows what he wants.”
Rodgers is all in.
“I want to put my stamp on the offense, the locker room and let the guys know what the expectations are,” Rodgers said. “It’s time for all of us to set the right expectations about this team. Like I said last year after we played (the Jets): They’re not the ‘same old Jets.’
“This is a team that has a legitimate chance to do something special this year. So let’s get our hearts out on the desire and potential we see in each other. I’m going to start doing it this week. I believe we have something special here and now we have to believe in it. That’s the first step to achieving your goals — you have to fully believe in what you’re doing and believe in the possibility.”
The possibilities. That’s what Rodgers is most excited about this time around, his first in the NFL outside of Wisconsin. He grew up in a small town in Northern California and lived in Green Bay for 18 years, wondering what life would be like living in a big city. He recalls moving to Berkeley, Calif., for college in 2003, living in a dirty fraternity house. Even then, he had a sense of “a new chapter, a new adventure,” he said. “There’s that deep sigh you take when all is right with the world, the adventure and journey is unknown and mysterious. That’s the beauty of life, because you never know what the future holds.”
After arriving at his hotel in New Jersey on Tuesday night, he took off his clothes, laid down and tried to sleep, distracted “by thinking about how special this new opportunity was, just to enjoy it.”
If Rodgers can feel what he’s feeling, he will. Before he left the news conference room, he recited a line from “The Office,” his favorite show.
I hope they told you that you were in for a good time before you left them.
“That’s a lot of wisdom and to enjoy how special this moment is right now,” Rodgers said, “and what this journey is going to be.”
The Jets feel it too.
(Photo: Elsa/Getty Images)