Continuing to brief the public on his surprising effort to make an in-season return from an Achilles tear, Aaron Rodgers will take a pivotal step. The Jets are preparing to open their quarterback’s practice window Wednesday.
This transaction will give the Jets three weeks to determine if Rodgers makes sense as a candidate to come off IR. Going down four plays into his Jets tenure, Rodgers has insisted he wants to return. The future Hall of Famer underwent a speed-bridge surgery to repair the injury, and the operation is believed to allow for a quicker path back. So far, that has proven true.
Rodgers has stopped short of guaranteeing he will be back, citing the Jets’ playoff chances. But he has also not ruled out rejoining a team out of contention. With the Jets 4-7, this looms as a curious comeback effort. Though, the team will follow through with the first part of it.
During his most recent Pat McAfee Show-based update, Rodgers reaffirmed (via the Washington Post’s Mark Maske) hopes to return but determined he was not ready to make a full determination on coming back this season. Although Rodgers pried the door back open regarding a comeback for a team without legitimate playoff aspirations, he again said the Jets’ record will be a factor. ESPN’s FPI gives Gang Green a 0.4% chance to make the playoffs. That would seemingly point to the soon-to-be 40-year-old passer storing his cleats and preparing for the offseason program, but he will begin to see how he feels in practice.
An activation would mark a historic comeback from an Achilles tear. Players have come back from Achilles ruptures in the not-so-distant past — just not this quickly. Then-Rams running back Cam Akers went down in July 2021 but was back by Week 17. Terrell Suggs and Michael Crabtree, respectively, suffered tears during the spring of 2012 and 2013, respectively. The Ravens linebacker and 49ers wide receiver each came back during the season. Suggs was back by Oct. 21, 2012; Crabtree returned Dec. 1, 2013.
While Rodgers’ position is not predicated as much on athleticism, coming back around three months after an Achilles tear would be a significant NFL accomplishment. Even returning to practice in-season is notable as far as Achilles recoveries go. It reminds of Jerry Rice‘s 1997 timetable. The legendary wideout suffered a partially torn ACL in Week 1 of his 13th season but was back in uniform for San Francisco’s Week 16 matchup with Denver. Rice scored a touchdown upon returning but was lost for the season after reinjuring the knee during that Monday-night game, hurting the eventual No. 1-seeded team’s Super Bowl chances. The Jets’ 2023 season will not stand to complicate a Rodgers return, as the team’s recent struggles make this more about one player’s quest than a return that impacts the AFC playoff race.
Robert Saleh said Wednesday that Rodgers has been cleared for functional football activity and added the 19th-year veteran returning to practice now would not jeopardize his long-term outlook. Rodgers almost definitely would not be signing off on this if he feared a reinjury, one that would impact his 2024 status, and will only come back upon receiving full clearance, ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini notes. Saleh had previously said the Jets would not stand in Rodgers’ way if he wants to come back — even in a potentially lost season — and ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano adds the team indeed is not expected to block its starter from returning under these circumstances.
Rodgers also left the door open to this practice return not leading to game action. If the Jets do not activate Rodgers by Dec. 20, he will land on season-ending IR. Given their recent woes, that still seems like the most likely outcome. The Jets benched Zach Wilson once again and have turned to Tim Boyle, who is on track to return as the team’s Week 13 starter. New York has lost four straight, seeing Wilson flatline and Boyle lead a 159-yard offensive effort in a one-sided Week 12 loss to the Dolphins.
This once-farfetched return scenario reached the point in which GM Joe Douglas said the team expected to have its starter back before season’s end. Those remarks came at the trade deadline, when the Jets still enjoyed more realistic playoff goals. The team would have a chance to see how Rodgers looks with its set of skill-position players, though offensive line injuries should also be a factor when the parties determine if a comeback is worthwhile. Alijah Vera-Tucker is out for the season, while Connor McGovern and Wes Schweitzer are on IR. Both Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton have missed time this year. Assuming the Jets retain their coaching staff for 2024, the team would not exactly need to see Rodgers in its system this season. Rodgers worked with embattled OC Nathaniel Hackett from 2019-21.
A $35MM guaranteed roster bonus awaits Rodgers next year, and despite being close to retirement this offseason, the four-time MVP has since said he viewed the Jets trade as a path toward a multiyear partnership. The Jets reworked Rodgers contract this summer, with the outspoken QB taking a pay cut in order to help the team bolster its roster. The team has received criticism for not doing more to replace Rodgers, and Wilson’s repeated shortcomings have led the route to 4-7. But Rodgers remains in the Jets’ future beyond 2023. Will this long-rumored plan of a return before that point actually lead to more game action?