Aaron Rodgers returned to Jets practice this week, less than three months after the Jets quarterback suffered a torn Achilles. It's the latest sign that Rodgers is on an unprecedented recovery track, considering most players with such injuries require anywhere from eight to 12 months of rehab. Why, exactly, is he doing this? Can the Jets still make a run? And what is A-Rod risking here?
Let's try to unpack each of the pressing questions:
Why is Rodgers rushing to return?
Well, for one, he wants to play. There might not have been a more anticipated story going into the 2023 season than Rodgers relocating from the Packers to the Jets, instantly infusing New York with title aspirations. No one could've predicted his Gang Green debut would last just four snaps. At 39, admittedly close to the end of his career, it's not hard to see why Rodgers would want to return sooner rather than later, especially if it means salvaging a playoff run in his first year with a new team.
But the question has now become, are the Jets even capable of restoration? At 4-7, having benched Rodgers' hapless fill-in, Zach Wilson, for career No. 3 Tim Boyle, New York has less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs according to current SportsLine simulations. Only one team, the Patriots (2-9) is below the Jets in the current postseason standings, with seven others ahead of them in the race for the final AFC wild-card spot. So if Rodgers is still pressing to return, is he really doing it to save New York?
Despite Fox Sports recently reporting that Rodgers wants to suit up regardless of the team's standing, perhaps just to prove skeptics wrong, the QB told reporters Thursday that it wouldn't "make a ton of sense" to come back if the Jets are out of it.
When could Rodgers actually return?
Based on Rodgers' mobility in pre-game throwing seasons this year, plus his limited return to practice this week, CBS Sports HQ injury expert Marty Jaramillo believes Week 16 remains the most likely potential return date for Rodgers.
"His recovery is on pace to slash traditional rehab protocols by (more than) half," JaramilloWednesday. "At the end of the day, he is in charge, and (his) medical team is letting Aaron do his thing with key constraints."
The Jets will host the Commanders on Christmas Eve that week. Week 16 is also a key marker in Rodgers' official recovery timeline. Designated to return from injured reserve this week, he has three weeks to be elevated to the active roster, or else he'll be required to remain sidelined for the rest of the season. With Week 13 this Sunday, Week 16 would be the first game immediately following that three-week window for activation.
What is the Jets' schedule the rest of the way?
This is perhaps most important of all, if Rodgers' recovery is truly influenced by the Jets' standing in the playoff race.
vs. Falcons (5-6)
vs. Texans (6-5)
@ Dolphins (8-3)
|vs. Commanders (4-8)
|@ Browns (7-4)
|@ Patriots (2-9)
What is the risk vs. reward for a Rodgers return?
This seems pretty clear: If the Jets are out of the playoff race, officially or otherwise, the reward of a Rodgers return would lie solely in the QB becoming one of the NFL history. If, somehow, New York goes on a win streak to stay alive long enough for Rodgers to return, and then Rodgers suits up and stays upright behind the Jets offensive line that failed to protect him back in Week 1, the reward is far greater -- a legitimate QB returning to a wild-card contender's lineup.in
The risks, however, appear far greater for both sides. Rodgers admitted on "The Pat McAfee Show" ahead of Week 13 that he's "not at an ability to play at this point." Which means, even if he took the full allotted time to practice before activation, he'd be going from "not ready to play" to "ready to start -- and survive -- an NFL game" in a matter of three weeks, assuming the Jets put him back in the lineup immediately. The medical concerns are obvious, as Jaramillo told CBS Sports: "He is pushing biology as far as it can be pushed. But for those of us in sports medicine, we know biology can fight back."
Jaramillo's reservations about Rodgers' unprecedented recovery stem from a historical comparison. He notes that decades ago, there was a strong movement toward accelerated ACL rehab, and the "long-term results proved quite disappointing, with a significant amount of ACL failures and stretching of graft." If Rodgers intends to play in 2024 and/or beyond, a premature return -- even accounting for legitimate recovery steps he's taken -- has the chance of derailing his long-term future with the Jets as well.
There is a 6.5% chance the Jets go on a three-game win streak to reach 7-7 between now and the hypothetical return date of Dec. 24, according to SportsLine's Stephen Oh, but even then, the Jets would only increase to a 12% chance of making the postseason. In other words, and especially if Rodgers remains the Jets' answer at QB beyond 2023, it's a lot to risk for a minimal reward.