Aaron Rodgers inspects gauze he is getting put on his...

Aaron Rodgers inspects gauze he is getting put on his feet during the Jets' OTA  in Florham Park, N.J., on Wednesday. Credit: Ed Murray

Just a few minutes after Robert Saleh had been asked about the team’s preparations at quarterback in case the “worst case scenario” happens to occur for a second straight season, the Jets were out on the practice field and Aaron Rodgers had to halt his participation to go deal with some medical trainers. He unlaced his cleats, removed his socks, and had his right foot and ankle area carefully inspected.

The highly superstitious head coach hadn’t knocked on the wood he so often does when discussing such unlucky developments. Had the oversight cost the Jets yet again?

No. This appeared to be just a minor issue that required some quick mending. Whatever was bugging Rodgers was patched up in no time and he trotted back to action virtually unencumbered to resume the rest of Wednesday’s OTA.

But those brief flashes of panic served as a sobering reminder of what exactly is at stake for this team and how precarious its plans are. Yes, the Jets have done just about everything possible to ensure that Rodgers does not suffer a second consecutive season-ending injury in terms of shoring up the offensive line (which has a few of its own potential injury pitfalls), and adding a proven veteran behind Rodgers in Tyrod Taylor who they believe can at least function if he has to play (which is more than anyone could say about last year’s backups). But they remain an organization and fanbase still startled by the events of that first drive of 2023 when their quarterback crumbled to the turf and their season pretty much collapsed with him.

That’s probably why team chairman Christopher Johnson was one of the first to mosey on over with as casual of a pace as he could manage while Rodgers was having that foot area looked at, just to make sure that the unspoken “worst case scenario” wasn’t getting an unwanted sequel.

The Jets seem to believe that the biggest challenge facing them this coming fall, the biggest obstacle between themselves and a Super Bowl run, will not come from Buffalo or Miami, Kansas City or Baltimore. It will come from the weekly medical reports and the section at the bottom of the roster where the names on injured reserve pile up.

And they may be correct.

None of this – the OTAs, the spring installations, the minicamps – will matter if Rodgers can’t play. None of the aspirations – the end of a 13-year playoff drought and 54-year Super Bowl drought – will be realized if he is not on the field for the majority of it.

Not many of the other players noticed Rodgers’ brief absence on Wednesday. It happened while the quarterbacks were working alone in an adjacent area and the rest of the team was busy going through their own positional drills. Joe Tippmann, the starting center, said he was unaware that his quarterback had required that pitstop for a tire change.

“I missed that,” Tippmann said.

But the mere mention of it seemed to make him recoil upon learning it happened and he was very much aware of the significance of keeping such incidents to a minimum.

“We’re doing what we can to keep him healthy,” he added.

A little later on, wide receiver Garrett Wilson was talking about some of the keys to this upcoming season, his desire to win games and get to the playoffs for the first time in his career. He tried to list a few of the biggest areas where the Jets can improve.

“We need to find a way to stay healthy and, um, find a way to stay healthy,” he said. “If we can find a way to stay healthy, we’ll be all right.”

What “location, location, location” is to real estate, “healthy, healthy, healthy” is to these Jets. And when they talk about health, what they’re really talking about is Rodgers.

The most important thing the Jets can accomplish in the three or so months between now and the start of the regular season is to make certain Rodgers is available and get him to that fifth play from scrimmage in the opener that he never made last season.

It’s not going to be as simple as it sounds. He is a 40-year-old player coming back from a major Achilles injury trying to play at a high level, something no one can really recall anyone else ever doing. Rodgers may see that as a challenge, as he’s indicated in recent interviews. Others may see it as a grim reality.

So far everything seems to be going smoothly. Rodgers does appear to have a slight limp at times, but he moves nimbly in the pocket and makes all the throws as he goes through this part of the offseason program. And his mobility makes teammates forget his age at times.

When Quinnen Williams was told that this will be Rodgers’ 20th NFL season, he was stunned. When he realized that rookie running back Braelon Allen is only 20 years old and that meant Rodgers “has been in the NFL as long as Braelon has been alive” he called it “crazy.” He said he would have to start teasing Rodgers about that.

It won’t be very funny, though, if Rodgers’ aging body betrays him – and the Jets – yet again.

There would be no scenario for them worse than that.


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