Aaron Rodgers during the New York Jets OTA workouts at...

Aaron Rodgers during the New York Jets OTA workouts at the Jets training facility in Florham Park, NJ, Tuesday, May 20, 2024 Credit: Ed Murray

At some point in the eight months since he last played in a meaningful football game Aaron Rodgers faced a fork in his life. A true quarterback option.

Would he become the vice-presidential running mate for Robert Kennedy Jr.? Or would he continue to be the Commander-of-Attention-in-Chief of the Jets?

Tough call, really. Neither franchise — the political family nor the football squad — has won the big one since the 1960s and Rodgers would certainly provide a boost to whichever of them he opted for. At least he knew he could not do both. Choosing one would be turning his back on the other.

Rodgers made it sound as if the spot on the ticket was his if he wanted it and it was a true consideration for him.

“I love Bobby,” he said on Tuesday. “We had a couple of really nice conversations.”

It was a true quarterback option.

“Retire and be his VP or keep playing,” Rodgers said. "I wanted to keep playing.”

An obvious summation of the March outcome considering Kennedy has already long since named someone else to co-pilot his third-party drive for the White House and Rodgers had just finished up a pristine OTA performance earlier in the day, his first public appearance as a starting quarterback since rupturing his Achilles in September. It was a workout that made everyone watching recall just how good he is at this calling . . . and how bad those who tried to replace him last season were at theirs. It was a reminder that Kennedy had better hope he hasn’t picked a Zach Wilson as his would-be veep.

Maybe the choice was easy because at 40 his remaining football snaps are finite while he has decades left to remain a public figure if he so desires (and there is barely any indication at all that he doesn’t). If he leaves football now it’ll be permanent. Politics can wait.

But for the second offseason in a row Rodgers picked the Jets over retirement. Last year it was after a darkness retreat from which he emerged 90% ready to hang ‘em up before facilitating a grudge trade from Green Bay to New York. This year it was shunning the potential for public office to return to the team and try to accomplish what he couldn’t — and what they very clearly couldn’t without him — in 2023.

Just how much he can turn off and ignore that other side of his innermost soul though, that siren’s call for attention, oration, dissertation, conspiracy and conflict that drives him to make the non-football appearances and statements he so often does, remains to be seen.

The player who scolded the organization at the conclusion of the 2023 campaign for allowing too many distractions into the building returned this spring with a whole new duffel bag of them. He doesn’t think those pursuits and sidequests qualify as intrusions because they take place away from the building, which may be one of the most naïve thoughts any 20-year veteran of this league has ever entertained.

Being quarterback of the Jets is not a full-time job, it is an all-the-time job. There is no offseason, there is no inside or out of the building, there is no setting in which you are not tethered to the organization even if Rodgers believes he can sever that relationship when it suits him.

“I appreciate anybody’s opinion . . . whether it is positive to me or negative,” Rodgers said, delving once again into the vaccination debate that he believes delineates those two sides. “But those are offseason things and those are real opportunities. The podcasts are mostly with friends of mine and the Bobby (Kennedy) thing was a real thing. How it got out there I don’t know. It wasn’t from me. Once the season starts it’s all about football.”

Can it ever truly be all about any one thing with Rodgers, though?

When Rodgers first arrived in Florham Park last spring there was awe in the eyes of those around him. Many had never seen anything close to a Hall of Fame quarterback up close and this chance to play with a bona fide one of those lifted everyone’s spirits and levels. They couldn’t believe the four-time MVP was actually there, throwing passes at practices, going over film and philosophy in meetings, infusing a fairly forlorn team with life.

His second coming this spring is a little more subdued. The trumpets and red carpets that heralded his arrival have been packed away along with the “Hard Knocks” cameras. They are excited and happy to have Rodgers on the field, sure, but a little burned, perhaps, by the injury that derailed everything. Maybe singed by his other dalliances, too. They now have a first-hand understanding of all the collateral Rodgers tracks in with him no matter how big the mudroom.

Last year was a fresh start for both the player and the team; this year both are more awake to the others’ picadilloes.

Here's an answer the Jets probably didn’t care for too much on Tuesday. Rodgers was asked if he is hungrier this season than he was last year. Why yes, you’d expect him to say. But he didn’t.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I was pretty damn hungry last year.”

His appetite may be the same, but the menu of options for his meals are growing and expanding.

When the league unveiled a schedule last week that featured Rodgers’ team in just about as many standalone games as possible, NFL vice president Mike North quipped that the Jets “kind of owe us one” after last season’s flop.

The Jets are owed one from Rodgers, too.

They are owed his complete and full attention to their pursuit of a Super Bowl title.

Will they get it?

Rodgers says he chose football. He chose the Jets. But that other stuff is still there, still a very big part of him and all he brings to this team.

He showed at Tuesday’s practice that he can still sling it at a high level, with “it” being the football. But for the past few months he’s been slinging a lot of other things, too, and as he’s gotten a taste for that kind of success it seems its gravity on him gets stronger and stronger. It feels destined to one day pull him completely away from football and the Jets.

How long he can manage to hold it at a distance will eventually determine how this relationship between player and team is seen.


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