FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — As Aaron Rodgers continues to barrel toward an unprecedented return from an Achilles injury that could include a return to the field this month, the greatest quarterback in Jets history believes it’s a miscalculation to set the obvious risks aside and is imploring the uppermost levels of his former team to force Rodgers to stay safely on the sideline.
“I hope not,” Joe Namath told Newsday in a phone conversation on Thursday about the ever-growing likelihood Rodgers plays in one of these last six regular-season games. “I hope that Woody and Christopher [Johnson], if that’s what it takes, say ‘No, you are not, Aaron.’ Aaron, being the team guy he is, probably wants to come back and play, but if I was the owner, no. I don’t care. No. We are not going to risk it with the team and the situation the way it is, with the offensive line. What have we got to gain by putting our most valuable player without having played more than a couple of snaps in the games coming up? Save him for next year. Please.”
Namath understands that there are very few in the organization who have the power to stand up to what Rodgers wants. Most of the coaches and executives seem to have their futures tied to Rodgers, he acknowledged, and preventing him from playing could sour that important relationship.
That’s why Namath is aiming his pleas right to the top, to the only people on the team — including Rodgers —- who can’t be fired.
“Aaron doesn’t own the team,” he said. “If that’s what it takes, the ownership should say ‘No.’ Do you think Jerry Jones would let this happen? Jerry was a football player. He knows some things . . . If it goes that far I hope Christopher and Woody say no. Why? Give me a good reason why Aaron, even if he is 100% now, comes back to play the rest of this season? Because he wants to play? Excuse me. If you own the team you want to see him play for a contender and we are not a contender this year.”
Rodgers clearly disagrees with Namath’s take. In speaking with reporters on Thursday for the first time since his injury, Rodgers dismissed the idea of risking further injury. “My thing is: What’s the worst that can happen?” he said, noting that even if he did suffer another Achilles injury he could just come back from that one, too, in time for next year’s season. “In my opinion there’s not a downside to coming back and reinjuring it."
There are other factors. Rodgers has said that having the Jets in contention for a postseason berth — they currently are mathematically alive with less than a 1% chance of accomplishing that — will impact any decision, but he hasn’t said unequivocally that if the Jets are out he will be too. He also had a workaround for that obstacle when he spoke Thursday, throwing out the possibility he might return in time for next week’s game.
There are also several physical and medical obstacles for Rodgers to clear before the Jets give him the full Gang Greenlight to act out his resurrection complex. So far, the Jets have still been talking about Rodgers’ return in terms of “if” and not “when.”
They must know, as we all sense, that all the brake pumping in the world probably won’t stop the Rodgers Express from its appointed rounds now that the comeback has gotten up to this chug-chug-chug pace.
One of the factors that has driven Rodgers since he suffered his injury four offensive snaps into the season opener on Sept. 11 has been wanting to prove doubters wrong and simply show he can do what no one thought was possible. He has a little scooter he uses to get around the facility in Florham Park, a tiny green beauty with the number 8 painted on the side. From the seat hangs a plastic replica of a New Jersey license plate. It reads: “WATCH ME.”
Namath would rather not. He isn’t buying the logic. He said Rodgers has nothing more to prove and he thinks the fact Rodgers is practicing should be enough to claim victory.
“For 18 years he’s been one of the best who ever played,” Namath said. “We know he can do it. He’s shown it to them in practice. He’s moving around. Yeah, he can do it. We know he can do it. But why do you risk it with the record the way it is? With the offensive line the way it is?”
Namath has been very critical of the Jets this season. In September he went on a long rant against backup quarterback Zach Wilson, coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas during an ESPN radio interview. “Get rid of them, top to bottom,” he said at the time.
Namath has simmered down a bit since then, and he apologized a week after his high-profile rip job. His actual sentiments appear unmoved by all that has transpired — and, in the case of roster moves that could have brought in a capable quarterback, not transpired — since then, though.
He told Newsday he believes “there will be changes made” in the offseason and lumped himself in with all Jets fans in saying: “We’re disappointed. Big time.”
Now his biggest concern for this almost-over season is that Rodgers re-damages his Achilles or suffers another injury that may impact his ability to play at an MVP level for the Jets in 2024. Namath played most of his career on balky knees and understands how limitations in mobility can affect a quarterback, especially when the offensive line is as thin as this one has become due to numerous injuries.
“I don’t want to see him get hurt again,” Namath said. “But behind that line right now he’s gonna be at high risk and he’s gonna get hit.”
Namath very much hopes Rodgers doesn’t play in the next few weeks. He fails to see any benefit to it. He wants common sense to prevail.
But like just about everyone else watching all of this unfold he is bracing for it to happen anyway.
“If Woody and Christopher allow him to play, well, let’s wish him the best,” Namath sighed.
Even when you are Broadway Joe, sometimes that’s all you can do.