While everyone was justifiably distracted by the game-changing moment of Aaron Rodgers announcing his intention to play for the NY Jets, two major free-agent signings in the NFL directly affected the Jets' plans for 2023 and ultimately tipped off the team's new all-in approach and intent for their roster moving forward.
The NY Jets swing for the fences and miss on All-Pro OT Orlando Brown
On Wednesday, the Cincinnati Bengals came to terms with four-time Pro Bowl tackle and Super Bowl champion Orlando Brown Jr. The reported contract is a four-year, $64 million front-loaded deal with a $31M signing bonus — the largest ever for an offensive lineman. A massive signing by a Bengals team looking to elevate the play of their offense led by star QB Joe Burrow.
The big story coming out of the signing from a Jets' perspective is that they went after Orlando Brown aggressively, but they and the Steelers lost out to the Bengals' super-sized offer.
Actions always speak louder than words. The Jets have been talking up a good game with returning veteran Duane Brown and a healthier Mekhi Becton. However, their pursuit of an elite player like Orlando Brown tells you how comfortable they are with their current situation at offensive tackle and what they feel their top priority is this offseason.
The Jets' most important mission this offseason beyond adding a superstar QB like Aaron Rodgers is improving their offensive line. The swing and miss for Orlando Brown shifts the Jets' focus to very likely drafting a premium offensive lineman in next month's draft. Joe Douglas and his team could draft more than one.
The question, of course, remains, what type of draft capital will the Jets have when their game of chicken with Green Bay concludes?
That's a critical factor in all of this. Will the Jets retain their first-round pick once a deal with the Packers is finally consummated? Many draft experts like Daniel Jeremiah have earmarked Georgia tackle Broderick Jones as New York's 13th overall selection.
The great thing about adding a quarterback of Aaron Rodgers' caliber to an offense is that he can improve offensive line play. Beyond his elite throwing ability is Rodgers' mastery of recognizing blitz looks, knowing when to get rid of the ball, and changing protections at the line of scrimmage.
Rodgers is a master at those three often-overlooked traits. Anyone who has watched games where the Packers have faced elite pass rushers like Nick Bosa has seen Rodgers expertly play a game of cat and mouse before and after the ball is snapped.
Even though adding Rodgers will certainly help the Jets' offensive line in Nathaniel Hackett's system, the fact that the team pursued the biggest offensive tackle prize in free agency shows you that Joe Douglas and their staff realize that they need premium play at the position.
The team is also in need of upgrading the interior of their offensive line, specifically at center. The Jets have made a couple of moves there, adding depth pieces like Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon.
Two quality swing linemen who should help replace the departing Dan Feeney (Dolphins) and Nate Herbig (Steelers), but it would not be shocking to see the Jets select an offensive tackle and interior offensive lineman with their first two picks in the NFL Draft. The Jets need long-term solutions at both spots.
The NY Jets push for star DT Fletcher Cox who re-signs with the Eagles
The Rodgers hysteria also distracted fans from two significant departures from the Jets' defensive line rotation. Sheldon Rankins has signed on with the Houston Texans, and Nathan Shepherd is now in New Orleans.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Jets were in on Fletcher Cox as a potential upgrade at defensive tackle. Ultimately, the multiple-time All-Pro decided to head back to the NFC champs on a one-year contract worth $10 million — a moderate deal for a player who, despite his age of 32, is still one of the league's best interior defenders.
At defensive tackle, the Jets have brought back Solomon Thomas and have a versatile player in John Franklin-Myers who can slide inside, but the team is awfully thin beyond all-world DT Quinnen Williams, especially considering the type of rotation that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich likes to employ.
The NY Jets have been attached to several defensive tackle prospects in this year's draft, but the play here may be to add a veteran like Fletcher Cox. Names like Calais Campbell and Akiem Hicks come to mind as short-term solutions, but the miss on Cox is low-key a significant one. He would have been the perfect fit in a Jets rotation.
The NY Jets' new all-in approach should push them toward pursuing DeAndre Hopkins
The full-on organizational effort to lure Aaron Rodgers out of the darkness, coupled with the Jets' pursuit of two superstar veteran players like Orlando Brown and Fletcher Cox, further illustrates the team's new all-in approach for 2023.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The team with the longest current playoff drought in the NFL, 12 years and counting, is going for it all now.
Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh are trying to buy themselves more time. That's what a playoff run in 2023 will do. Anything short of that could lead to a complete organizational reset, and that's why the team is not content with just adding Aaron Rodgers.
The truth is that the surreal addition of Aaron Rodgers might not be enough to contend in an ultra-competitive AFC.
On paper, using fan math, the Jets won seven games last season, despite having the league's lowest passer rating. You add an elite all-world QB like Aaron Rodgers, that should equate to three or four more wins easily. Right?
However, consider this. A year ago, the Green Bay Packers had Aaron Rodgers, and they missed the playoffs. A Tom Brady-led Tampa team won only eight games in 2022. It certainly helps to have a top-tier QB, but it doesn't make you bulletproof.
That's why I believe that the Jets should be in on any available superstar players on the market. 2024 be damned. That leads me to All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
On paper, the Jets have a group of pass-catching targets that you can certainly go to war with and be confident. Offensive Rookie of the Year Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, and Elijah Moore should make for a quality trio at wide receiver. Presumed future signing Randall Cobb should also play a nice role in the passing game as a reliable target.
However, what would really put the Jets' offense over the top is the addition of DeAndre Hopkins.
I know what you are thinking. How are the Jets going to give up suitable draft compensation for Aaron Rodgers and Hopkins? To pull this off, you'd have to part with significant capital over the next two years.
But if the Jets are in on potentially signing Odell Beckham, then they should be looking at Hopkins. The Cardinals have put him on the market. The reported asking price is a combination of picks including a second-round pick. That sounds fair to me.
Garrett Wilson will soar to further lengths with Aaron Rodgers. Lazard and Cobb are outstanding role players who bring different qualities to the table. Elijah Moore could return to the elite promise he showed as a rookie. That's provided that Joe Douglas doesn't deal him.
But if you want to ensure that the Jets make a deep playoff run and elevate their offense to an elite level in 2023, the play is to try and get your new star QB one of the best receivers in the league.
And as an added bonus, keep Hopkins away from AFC East rivals, New England, or dare I mention it, Buffalo.
The measuring stick and expectation level have changed in Jets land. There's no turning back now. The Jets are shooting for the stars. They may ultimately land on the clouds, but that shouldn't stop them from shooting.