Jets QB Aaron Rodgers' spirit is willing, but he said on Tuesday that his surgically repaired Achilles tendon is not 100 percent and he's not yet able to return to the rigors of the NFL.
"I think the whole time it's been hoping that we're still in it," Rodgers said during his weekly spot on "The Pat McAfee Show." "It was unrealistic to think that I would be 100 percent, to be medically cleared at any point during the regular season. I do feel like in the next three-to-four weeks it would be very possible to get to 100 percent. Obviously, not there. The conversation was, away from the 100 percent medical clearance to my willingness to play. And that's never been the problem for me."
The Jets were eliminated from the playoffs after last week's loss at Miami, coupled with victories by Houston and Cleveland. After rupturing his Achilles tendon on the first offensive series of the season, on Sept. 11, Rodgers has worked diligently in an attempt to return from this specific injury faster than anyone else.
He returned to practice on Nov. 29 after he underwent surgery on Sept. 14, and increased his workload last week. He has only taken 7-on-7 reps and participated in individual drills, which included quarterback bootlegs and lateral movement, something he had not done since his return to practice. His 21-day window to return to the active roster was set to expire on Wednesday. Now, it's a moot point.
"I've been progressing steadily," Rodgers said. "Once I was able to start jogging on the Alter-G between the eighth and ninth week things have progressed pretty good. I came out here right before Thanksgiving to continue my rehab. I was able to get on the practice field in limited fashion the last two weeks. It's been, like you've seen, throwing on the side and individual work. This last week I took QB-center exchange, did some stuff with the running backs. I've been doing the 7-on-7 with the Flight School, which is basically twos and threes and p-squad guys that I asked to do at the end of the day. So that's been fun. Didn't do any 11-on-11 stuff."
"If I was 100 percent today I'd be definitely pushing to play [Sunday vs. Washington]. The fact is I'm not. I've been working hard to get closer to that. I'm still 14 weeks tomorrow from my surgery. Being medically cleared at 100 percent healed is not realistic at 14 weeks."
With Zach Wilson in the concussion protocol, there was talk that Rodgers -- pending medical clearance -- might be tempted to play against the Commanders. He had long spoken about working feverishly to get back on the field, but only if the Jets were either in contention or qualified for the NFL's postseason tournament.
"Still, in a hypothetical world, if we [would have won] Sunday then I'd need to go through a week of 11-on-11 practice, taking team reps to see how I respond to that and how much I can move in the pocket, seeing if I can get out of the pocket," he said. "There still would have been a conversation. It wouldn't have been, hey you are activated and you are for sure playing. Being a competitor, I would have pushed it as fast as I could this week, but it still would have been a conversation, check all the boxes, practice well, respond well the next day after some of these 11-on-11 sessions, and then a conversation between [owner] Woody [Johnson], [GM] Joe [Douglas] and [HC] Robert [Saleh] and Dave and the medical staff and Neal ElAttrache and myself to determine whether or not they were going to clear me."
After the Jets acquired Rodgers last April in a trade with Green Bay, Rodgers said he planned to play at least two more seasons. That was before the injury wiped out his first with the Green & White. He was asked if he would play beyond the 2024 NFL season -- or if it would be his "last dance."
"I don't think so," said Rodgers, who turned 40 years old on Dec. 2. "I felt like when I came here that I got kind of a renewed passion and love for the game. Everything has been amazing here. The people I've gotten to work with, the relationships I've gotten from my teammates and the amazing men and women that work here at 1 Jets Drive has been really special.
"I wanted at least two years, so I feel like this year is kind of a lost year now that I was only able to play a couple snaps and wasn't able to go out there and prove what I'm capable of and see what we're capable of as a team. I don't think next year will be my last year. With some of the things that I've learned over the last year, taking care of my body and surrounding myself with some great people who have been helping me with my nutrition and functional training at a more acute level, I feel like I can play more years and I can be effective into my 40s, which is crazy because I thought I'd probably be sitting on a couch somewhere at 40. But now I want to be a starter at 40, I want to be a starter at 41. I want to see what I can get out of this body. I believe in the leadership we have here, I believe in our guys. I don't think it's a situation where we need to rebuild. We need to reload a little bit and there will be some tough decisions for sure, but I like pieces we have in place."
Though he was first watching his team while rehabbing on the West Coast and has been on the sideline since the end of November, Rodgers said he truly likes a lot of what he's seen and has been encouraged by the wealth of talent already in place.
"I like the pieces that we have in place. I like our young players, a lot of great young players that are stepping into more of a leadership role in their second or third years," Rodgers said. "There are some guys who just got paid like Quinnen Williams who has a chance to be an All-Pro in this League for a long, long time. His brother [Quincy Williams] has had one of the most outstanding years for an inside backer I think in the League. And I think he's finally getting the respect he deserves. C.J. [Mosley] has been a rock for us as our captain on defense. A lot of great performances this year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Although Sauce you won't see the interception numbers jump out has had a fantastic year. Nobody really throws his way. And then on the other side, the guy who is getting a lot of work, D.J. Reed, has had a fantastic season. I'm proud of those guys. I think Tony Adams has had a really nice year for us as an undrafted player who has gotten better every single week. Jordan Whitehead has been great for us on the backend. Our D-Line, that speaks for itself, six or seven deep. They have been fantastic all season long. Quinnen has obviously had a fantastic year inside. Quinton Jefferson has had a really nice year playing interior tackle. Solomon Thomas has had a fantastic year, had a great game [at Miami]. JFM is a stout, solid player on the edge for us. Bryce Huff has made himself a lot of money this year. Will McDonald has a bright future in the League. There is a lot of pieces in place. Most of those guys will be back..."
"Offensively, we have to reload in a couple spots. But I think we have some great pieces in place. We have two outstanding players to build around in Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall, who have had nice seasons. I think the future is very bright in New Jersey for our guys. And we'll finish out the season the right way. It's a long offseason for sure. I like the men that we have on the squad. I like the characters that we have. And we just have to add a couple pieces to it and the goals will still be the goals."
He said he's heard the chatter from fans and the media now that the Jets will miss the postseason for a 13th straight year. He believes, however, that the team is in good hands.
"I believe in Joe Douglas, I think he's put together a lot of great drafts and a great roster. We've obviously had a number of difficult injuries this season," he said. "I believe in Robert Saleh. I think he's a fantastic coach, he's got the right stuff. What you emphasize is what you are going to get. I think he emphasizes the right things about the right stuff, how to be a professional. I believe in Nate Hackett. I always have. The offense that he runs is quarterback friendly and obviously it was geared around me and my abilities and what I do well."
Rodgers said he would spend time during the offseason training on the West Coast, but return to the Northeast around the time of the NFL Draft in late April.
"Let me just send a warm Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of our Jets fans," Rodgers said. "Listen, we love you. We want it as badly as you do. We care about it as badly as you do. We are as pissed as you are. I'm asking you, stick with us, believe in us and start manifesting positive things and not thinking about what could go wrong in 2024...Trust that it will be a different conversation [one year from now when I'm on this show].'