Jets tackle Tyron Smith does a drill during minicamp at the team's...

Jets tackle Tyron Smith does a drill during minicamp at the team's practice facility in Florham Park, N.J., on Tuesday. Credit: Ed Murray

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — He’s a future Hall of Famer, one of the most productive and decorated players ever to take the field at his position, and a key pillar on whom the success of this upcoming Jets season is perilously balanced. So no, of course he didn’t have to be here for what is titled a “mandatory” minicamp but was really just another summerish day. There were probably a dozen other things he could have been doing, nevermind one that he decided would be “important” enough to skip these last few days of class before summer vacation starts.

And yet Tyron Smith was on the field. He was going through drills. He was lining up to protect the quarterback in unpadded practice reps. For what may have been the zillionth time in his long, dominant career, Smith was refining his footwork and hand placement. Even without the plastic pads there was an audible "thwump" each time Smith got those big paws locked on a would-be pass rusher who soon found himself blotted out.

About the only thing Smith didn’t do was pick up one of the blocking pads to hold for someone else to pummel. That seems to be his one vet perk.

“That stopped a long time ago,” he said with a laugh.

But Smith was here doing (almost) all of the drudgery and tedious work that goes into being an all-time great player, not to mention part of a winning team.

And Aaron Rodgers? Aaron Rodgers was not.

Rodgers was off doing something he decided outweighed his obligation to the Jets, was of more significance to him than the $50,000 or so in pocket change fines he could face for skipping these workouts.

Two Jets' players, Aaron Rodgers and Haason Reddick, were absent from the Jets' mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. Credit: Newsday Studios

The Jets have been so enthralled these past 14 months in which Rodgers has been part of their world by what he has taught and shown them. Tuesday was a case in which someone else on the Jets, Smith, was able to show Rodgers — and everyone else — how it should be done.

Much attention will be given to how Smith helps groom rookie first-round pick Olu Fashanu this season. If the Jets are lucky, Smith will be able to teach even Rodgers a thing or two before their finite time together ends, however and whenever it does.

“I enjoy it,” Smith, the 33-year-old left tackle, said of participating in this mundane event as well as the previous several weeks of voluntary portions of the offseason program. “You can always get better at some kind of technique. You sit there and learn.”

So Smith was here. And Rodgers was not.

It’s unlikely that at any point from the start of training camp next month onward we’ll insist that things would have been better for the Jets had only their quarterback been practicing with them on that Tuesday and Wednesday back in June. It was hard even for Robert Saleh to get too worked up over Rodgers going AWOL.

“If this is the worst thing that happens to us, we’ll be doing pretty good,” he said of the blip of an internal distraction created by what the outside world saw as the most scrutinized and speculated-over absence — prearranged but unexcused though it was — in the team’s recent history. At least Haason Reddick had a good, relatable reason — money — for not showing up. Rodgers’ motives are as cryptic and perplexing as he is.

This, though, wasn’t about missed reps. It was about appearances. Messages to the other 68 players who showed up. About misplaced priorities. And about a growing sense that Rodgers will always have one eye on other opportunities, one foot pointed toward the door, ready to sprint after whatever catches his attention out there.

“I feel like we can be a dominant offense once everyone is on the same page and I feel like we are getting to that point,” Smith said of the potential for this team. “We have to stay together.”

On Tuesday they weren’t. They couldn’t be. The most critical of them wasn’t around.

Besides being among the top to ever play their positions, Smith and Rodgers seem to have very little in common. Despite his imposing 320-pound frame and vaunted resume, Smith even conceded to being a little uncomfortable talking to the media on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’ve never been a rah-rah type guy,” he said. “I try to say as little as possible. I’m always leading by example… That’s the way I always roll.”

Rodgers rolls differently. Differently than just about anyone else on the planet, perhaps.

But if there is even a little bit of Rodgers that is humble enough and aware enough to have checked in on Tuesday’s happenings without him in Florham Park, to have noticed and truly thought about some of the things Smith said and did, then maybe the Jets will be even better for it.


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