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Can young Jets deal with Aaron Rodgers’ propensity for the spotlight?
National Football League

Can young Jets deal with Aaron Rodgers’ propensity for the spotlight?

Published Jul. 31, 2023 3:21 p.m. ET

Does anyone else feel like they're watching the New York Jets run with scissors?

Aaron Rodgers has been a headline machine since joining the team. He's a man of theatrics and drama and immense personality. Forgive me — but I can't help but wonder whether the heft of that personality might eventually weigh upon the Jets.

It's just the beginning of training camp, but New York has already been the most-discussed team in the league. Why? Well, of course, it's Rodgers. It's rare to see a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback change teams (even if it has become more common). But it's not just that the Jets have brought him in, with all his bravado and confidence. It's also that they've been forced to take on "Hard Knocks" (in part because of Rodgers' arrival). They've shown a lot of interest in free-agent running back Dalvin Cook, hosting him at camp this past weekend.

That all seemed manageable enough. But in the past few days, there has been the war of words between Rodgers and Broncos coach Sean Payton. Payton spoke with USA TODAY’s Jarrett Bell and said former Broncos coach and current Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett did "one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL." 


Rodgers quickly responded.

"It made me feel bad that someone who has accomplished a lot in the league is that insecure that they have to take another man down to set themselves up for some sort of easy fall if it doesn't go well for that team this year," Rodgers told NFL Network on Sunday. "I think it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think he needs to keep my coaches' names out of his mouth."

How much of this drama is actually good for the Jets?

Rodgers has escalated this feud with Payton. 

And for what? 

Rodgers already has Hackett's undying loyalty. Their bond is well-covered. Rodgers loves Hackett and vice versa. Rodgers' comments didn't materially change the way people think of Hackett. The outburst accomplished very little.

Jets coach Robert Saleh took a different tack. He laughed off Payton's comments.

"He can say whatever the hell he wants, but as far as what we have going on here, I can live by the saying, ‘If you ain't got no haters, you ain't poppin. So hate away,'" Saleh said. "Obviously, we're doing something right if you got to talk about us when we don't play until Week [5], and I'm good with it."

The more Rodgers embraces the spotlight, the more this team puts a target on their back.

Last year, they went 7-10 and had an outside shot at the playoffs, but they were playing the role of underdog. That's a much easier position than the one that Rodgers has thrust them into: Top Dog. They have the seventh-best Super Bowl odds. 

Expectations create pressure. And while that might not be a problem for Rodgers, the scrutiny and the haters might have an impact on New York's young players.

The team's stars are mostly young and mostly inexperienced. Receiver Garrett Wilson, cornerback Sauce Gardner and running back Breece Hall may all be among the top players at their positions — but they're also only entering Year 2. Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams just signed a massive contract and is among the top leaders on the defense, but he's just 25. Offensive linemen Alijah Vera-Tucker and Mekhi Becton are still on their first contracts.

Robert Saleh responds to Sean Payton's criticism: "Hate Away"

The core of this team is young. The Jets were hungry last year.

This year? I can't help but worry about what might happen if the team quickly falls short of expectations — particularly in a division that's gate-kept by Josh Allen and in a conference controlled by Patrick Mahomes.

This is absolutely not a knock on New York landing Rodgers. His arrival is — without a doubt — a tremendous get for the Jets. It cost them dearly in the way of draft capital. But Rodgers recently made sure it cost them less financially, with the quarterback taking a massive pay cut by restructuring his contract in a team-friendly manner. 

He's a team player. His teammates love him. And for now, the drama doesn't seem to be bothering anyone.

But we're talking about the Jets, who have historically delivered disappointment. They represent a city that's always in a rush for results — and is quick to put its teams on blast for failing to produce the expected results. 

Their schedule won't make the situation easier. Their first six games are vs. Buffalo, at Dallas, vs. New England, vs. the Chiefs, at Denver and vs. the Eagles. That list includes four of the six teams with better Super Bowl odds than the Jets. The other two? Well, they're led by two Hall of Fame-caliber coaches (Payton and Bill Belichick). That schedule has teeth.

Rodgers might need to wade a bit more carefully with his theatrics. It's great to be confident. But unnecessary conflict? It might be better to turn the other cheek to Payton and, come Week 5, put an absolute hurting on the Broncos with the help of Hackett. 

Otherwise, the drama feels a bit like someone brazenly running with scissors. Will everything be OK? Yeah, probably. Could it go wrong — and quickly? Um, yup. And these are the accident-prone, butt-fumbling Jets. If there's any team that shouldn't run with scissors, it's the Jets.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.

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