Jets head coach Robert Saleh and quarterback Aaron Rodgers watch...

Jets head coach Robert Saleh and quarterback Aaron Rodgers watch from the sidelines as the Raiders defeat the Jets at Allegiant Stadium on Nov. 12 in Las Vegas. Credit: Getty Images/Ethan Miller

As he stepped off the podium from his nearly nine-minute press conference on Wednesday which opened with the not-quite-unexpected-but-still-shocking news that Aaron Rodgers had been cleared to return to practice from his torn Achilles, an 11-week turnaround for an injury that typically takes closer to 11 months for a full recovery, Jets coach Robert Saleh playfully chided the reporters who drove the discussion about the quarterback.

No one had asked anything about the Falcons. That’s the team visiting MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

“Maybe tomorrow,” Saleh said with a grin.

True, there were absolutely no queries about Atlanta.

Then again, there were hardly any about the Jets, either. At least not the ones who are on the active roster and will be available for this upcoming contest.

That’s because none of this has anything to do with them. It never has.

From the moment Rodgers emerged from his darkness retreat to find both real and perceived slights from the Packers which effectively ended his relationship with that organization, to his decision to sprint to New York for what he essentially admitted was spite and embrace the only team that would actually pay the price for his services, the Jets were inconsequential. Through a training camp that became a group worship session of his auras and abilities and manifestations, right up to Wednesday when the rest of the team was on the field stretching before practice like a bunch of extras in a Cecil B. DeMille epic as the hero marched alone into the scene, Rodgers has accomplished what he set out to do and made the Jets afterthoughts in their own season.

.

Wednesday was another reminder of that. The location was just the background, the uniform just wardrobe. It could have been the Colts or the Cardinals or the Raiders Rodgers played for this season and the main thrust of the narrative would not have been much different. It just happened to be the Jets who were desperate enough to welcome the chance to be the setting for his prove-‘em-all-wrong production.

This whole orchestrated story was always about Aaron. No one else. Nothing else.

It still is.

Saleh spoke about Rodgers being driven by his love for the game, which is probably true, but also his love for this organization, which is much more difficult to fathom. He may be grateful that the Jets have given him a stage on which to perform these final acts of his Hall of Fame career, but just about everything Rodgers says or does signals he is more beholden to his own legacy and image than that of this franchise.

Why else continue to push for a return in this already unsalvageable season? Why risk the one shred of hope the Jets still have, that Rodgers will somehow be able to play at something close to his MVP levels in 2024? Is it because Cam Akers came back from his Achilles in record time and Rodgers wants to do it faster? Because Kobe Bryant was able to rebound from his and Rodgers wants to return better? Because he turns 40 on Saturday and didn’t want to head into middle age with an injured reserve designation?

It's certainly not to benefit the Jets in any way other than providing fodder for their gleaming social media slo-mo videos of him literally emerging from shadows into sunlight on his first walk back out to the practice field on Wednesday afternoon.

“I promise,” Saleh said, “Aaron isn’t going to do anything to put himself in harm’s way.”

Again, no mention of the Jets. Even Saleh sometimes forgets about them when discussion Rodgers.

That caution does seem to be the case for now. Actions speak much louder than practice windows opening and Rodgers did not appear to be all that much closer to actually playing in an NFL game during the portion of his first practice open to the media than he has during his pregame tossing sessions that have drawn so much attention for the past month or more. He worked on some footwork drills and threw some passes “against air” (translation: no defenders) although it’s hard to understand why having a cornerback cover a receiver would impact him other than adding a competitive edge to his plays that must be avoided. He was not moving at full speed at any point and while he was able to drop straight back he did not participate in any of the roll-out drills the rest of the quarterbacks went through.

What Rodgers has accomplished has been astounding. It should be enough to prove his point and quell his doubters. It will not be.

He has 21 days to either be added back to the active roster or revert to season-ending injured reserve. Saleh said he’s “not even thinking about 21 days from now.” Know who is? Number 8. And it seems like a foregone conclusion how it will end in his mind. Good luck finding anyone in the organization who is going to stick their necks out to do what should be done and deny Rodgers the chance to complete his vision and bring this script to its natural conclusion.

Rodgers has added caveats to his return lately, including that the Jets be in playoff contention and that he be able to protect himself on the field, all of which he has laid out in recent weekly appearances on “The Pat McAfee Show.” But if there is one thing we have learned about Rodgers from this past year – these past 19 years really – it’s that he does what he wants.

He wants this. So he’ll likely get it.

The Jets’ accepted payoff for being overshadowed by Rodgers all along was supposed to be football success. It’s too late for that to happen now. They made certain of that when they did not add a capable replacement for him upon his injury. Four snaps into the season on Sept. 11 Rodgers did in fact suffer a season-ending injury. It just turned out to end the Jets’ season, not his.

Rodgers still gets to chase his ambitions even as logic and caution suggest he probably shouldn’t. The Jets don’t figure in that equation. They never did.

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