For the majority of Tuesday morning, the NFL's widescreen football conversation was unfolding in Eagan, Minnesota. Questions abounded at the league's owner's meetings about whether kickoffs were being targeted for elimination from the game; when the Washington Commanders would finally be sold; and how much longer commissioner Roger Goodell would continue his duties as the most highly-paid executive in the history of sports.
It was the typical big picture stuff that simmers at the meetings. And all it took to sweep it off the front end of the news cycle was Aaron Rodgers heading out to a New York Jets practice without a helmet. Just like that, Jets Panic — which deserves a WebMD page at this point — gripped every corner of social media spaces.
Why isn’t Rodgers taking passing reps? Is he limping? What happened? Is this serious?
If you wanted an accurate snapshot of what this Rodgers stint is going to be like with the Jets, this was it. With the euphoria of last month's trade from the Green Bay Packers tucked away, it was a dose of white-knuckled reality showcasing what it feels like to have so much leveraged on a 39-year-old quarterback. The good times for Jets fans might be as exhilarating as they are hoping for, but the inevitable bumps along the road will be throttled with anxiety. And all it will take to kick it into gear is Rodgers showing virtually any element of a problem. Even one that was as simple as what one team source described as "nothing" and a "slight strain in his calf".
“I just tweaked my calf in the little pre-practice conditioning and decided to take a vet day,” Rodgers told reporters after the practice.
Asked what he was doing when the injury occurred, Rodgers replied, “I don’t know. Just running, I guess.”
That answer was largely relevant because reporters observed Rodgers stretching his calf after an exercise that involved performing lunges while holding a medicine ball — a warmup routine that Rodgers noted was unlike any he’d previously done during his career. After the injury, he remained on the field, which is typically an indication wasn’t serious enough to require any immediate therapy.
The reaction from a large portion of the Jets fan base, however, was hardly so muted. It was followed with Zach Wilson memes, an avalanche of Twitter groans about the Jets being cursed, and some predicable lamenting about New York having surrendered next season’s first-round pick if Rodgers plays only 65% of offensive snaps in 2023.
None of this was all that absurd, of course. Wilson remains just one Rodgers injury away from being the No. 1 quarterback for the Jets again. That is as inescapable as it is frightening for portions of the fan base. But while we’re talking about Wilson, it’s worth mentioning that he reportedly had a good practice while taking Rodgers’ reps on Tuesday. As for the curse thing, well, there has been no shortage of best-laid-plans that devolved into abject failure over the last several decades for the Jets. So that emotional black cloud is at least understandable.
But perhaps the most important point in the totality of fan reaction is that 65% offensive snap threshold, which is always going to be the first thing that jumps to mind if Rodgers suffers any kind of injury whatsoever. If there is any point of frustration in the Rodgers trade that is bound to continually resurface in the ensuing months, it’s that low bar for kicking a first-round pick to the Packers once Rodgers reaches that benchmark. If he doesn't play enough snaps, Green Bay only gets a second-rounder from the Jets. The risk tied to that asset is as real as it gets, and the Jets need to take every precaution to avoid banging Rodgers up. And that might include having him do lower body warmups that his 39-year old joints aren’t accustomed to. God forbid Rodgers had suffered a knee injury jumping around with that medicine ball. Half of New Jersey would have descended onto the Florham Park facility with pitch forks and torches. That’s how much the fan base is invested in this whole thing working out.
That buy-in is also what is going to be so fascinating about the Rodgers experience in New York over the next several months (or years). Even amongst the many NFL fan bases that go through wild mood swings about the team or a particular player, few rival the peaks and valleys in New York, let alone the breakneck speed at which the heights can sink into the depths. It’s not so much a roller coaster as it is a shuttle launch into space followed by a careening descent back to earth.
Never more so than in 2023, when the team logo might as well be a seatbelt. This is what the Jets signed up for. It’s what the vast majority of the fan base was clamoring for. And it’s pretty much what we expected when Rodgers’ marriage to the Jets was achieved. A news-making churn capable of overshadowing the rest of the league’s fairly important business … on a Tuesday in May, no less.
Welcome to the preview. Just wait until the full-blown circus arrives in training camp.