Rodgers bonding with Jets teammates in Big Apple spotlight
Aaron Rodgers was sitting alone in the dark two months ago, pondering his future while many speculated about his next move.
Now, the New York Jets quarterback is the toast of his new town, bonding with the Big Apple and his excited teammates.
“That’s a legend right there, that’s a Hall of Fame player,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said Wednesday during a video call. "This is something 20 years from now, 30 years from now, I can tell my kids, ‘You know, I played with Aaron Rodgers.’ I try not to think about it too much at this point, you know, just because we’re going to work and he’s my teammate and that’s got to be the mindset.
“But the reality of it is it’s awesome, man.”
After an offseason that included Rodgers going on an isolation retreat in Oregon and deciding to continue his playing career — and with the Jets — the four-time NFL MVP was formally introduced by New York last Wednesday after acquiring him from Green Bay. The deal brought one of the league's greatest players to a franchise frustrated by 12 straight seasons without a playoff appearance and hungry for a winner.
And Rodgers is already making an impact.
“We know that all of the sudden, all eyes are on us,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to back it up every time we take the field, you know, practice or game.”
Rodgers is also enjoying his turn as New York's newest celebrity while taking in Knicks and Rangers games at Madison Square Garden.
"I met Spike Lee, Martha Stewart and Patrick Ewing,” Rodgers said Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show” on YouTube and SiriusXM. “I’m sitting next to Jack Harlow. So much fun. Just having a ball.”
He was there with former Packers teammate Allen Lazard and running back Breece Hall for the Rangers’ 5-2 win over the Devils in Game 6 last Saturday. Rodgers and Lazard were back the next day for the Knicks’ playoff loss to Miami in Game 1. On Tuesday night, Rodgers and cornerback Sauce Gardner sat courtside next to actor Jerry Ferrara and former Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist for the Knicks’ victory in Game 2.
“It was great being around a veteran guy like him, a down to earth guy who — I didn’t know he was that funny,” Gardner said.
“Everybody knew who he was and I was able to just be in his shadow a little bit.”
Rodgers, who’s 39, teased the 22-year-old Gardner about his age at times during their night out on the town — which started with the QB picking up the tab for dinner at Carbone restaurant.
“We were getting seated (at the Garden) and he was like, ‘We’re about to sit by Jessica Alba,’” said Gardner, last season's AP Defensive Rookie of the Year. “I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know who that is.’ He looked at me like I’m crazy.”
Rodgers probably would’ve had a similar look a few months ago if someone had told him he’d be calling the New York/New Jersey area home — as a member of the Jets.
“I’m just pinching myself a lot of days,” Rodgers said. “I can’t believe it’s real sometimes. It’s been a dream, for sure, just to be here.”
Rodgers is participating in offseason workouts, something he hadn't done the past couple of seasons in Green Bay while he feuded with the Packers' front office. A slow-motion video posted Monday by the Jets of Rodgers throwing a pass to Wilson, last season's AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, has gotten more than 9.6 million views.
“I ain't gonna lie to you, I was kind of starstruck at first,” linebacker Quincy Williams said with a smile. "I was like, ‘Hold on, coach, let me just take a little minute to just take this in,’ just to watch a few throws and seeing him in the green.
“And it was like, all right, let’s get to work so we can give him more opportunities to throw the ball.”
The Jets are counting on Rodgers doing that and jumpstarting an offense that ranked near the bottom of the league in several categories the past two years with Zach Wilson struggling in then-coordinator Mike LaFleur's system. Rodgers is reunited with Nathaniel Hackett, his offensive coordinator for three years in Green Bay, including the last two of his four MVP awards in 2020 and 2021.
Hackett isn't the only former Packers teammate joining Rodgers in New York. The Jets signed Lazard, backup quarterback Tim Boyle and offensive lineman Billy Turner in free agency. They also already had wide receiver Malik Turner and offensive lineman Adam Pankey.
The Jets are also expected to sign wide receiver Randall Cobb, who had two stints as Rodgers' teammate in Green Bay and walked off the field with the quarterback after the Packers' season-ending loss to Detroit at Lambeau.
“It’s like the first day of school every single day,” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show.” “Everything’s new and exciting and fun."
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Dennis Waszak Jr., The Associated Press