FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A typical offensive meeting for the New York Jets is atypical from recent years, meaning there’s more than one voice in the room.
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett leads the discussion, but he has a chatty co-pilot who likes to interject opinions, suggestions and pointed questions to his fellow players.
No, Aaron Rodgers doesn’t make a good wallflower.
“We’ll be in the meeting and Hack will be talking, then Aaron will butt in real quick,” running back Breece Hall said of the Jets’ quarterback.
Players need to pay attention because Rodgers will go around the room, quizzing players from the various position groups. He will ask a player his assignment on a particular play, then change it up by testing that same player on how he would adjust if the play gets changed at the line of scrimmage.
“You feel that sense of calm,” Hall said, “but you also know you have to be on your stuff.”
Rodgers has yet to play a down for the Jets, who acquired him 44 days ago from the Green Bay Packers, but he already has changed the way they do football.
At the same time, this is one of the main reasons why Rodgers decided to continue his career with the Jets. With Hackett — a close friend and confidant — running the offense, he knew he’d have a major say in the implementation and direction of the offense, which he views as a refreshing change from Green Bay.
Rodgers chafed at times under Packers coach Matt LaFleur, occasionally expressing his frustration publicly. Rodgers, who once said LaFleur’s system “has flaws,” vented last season after a loss to the Jets, claiming the offense needed to be simplified. It wasn’t the first time he aired his feelings.
Make no mistake, Rodgers was vocal in Green Bay’s meetings — he said so himself — but there’s a difference between speaking up and being heard. While it’s still the honeymoon phase, it sounds like his words carry more weight in New York. You might say he has ownership of the offense, which was designed with him in mind. Simply put, it’s his show.
“The worst thing you can see in a meeting is a coach up there talking the entire time with no interaction,” Rodgers said. “That might be the standard at some places, but I just never felt that’s been the right way to do things. It needs to be a free-flowing conversation between the coaches and the players. There needs to be feedback, you need to call on guys. So I’m allowed to do some of that stuff.”
Rodgers said he gets “a lot of latitude” from Hackett, who served as the Packers’ coordinator from 2019 to 2021. While Hackett didn’t call the plays, he was heavily involved in game-planning and acted as an important buffer between Rodgers and LaFleur, the playcaller. Hey, it worked. Rodgers won his third and fourth NFL MVP awards in 2020 and 2021.
Now they’re reunited, with Rodgers enjoying the kind of carte blanche that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady experienced later in their careers with the Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. Rodgers said he loves the newfound “freedom of expression,” which might be a subtle jab at LaFleur.
The Jets haven’t had a starting quarterback with this much experience (Rodgers has 223 starts) since Josh McCown in 2017. Joe Flacco (180 career starts) was on the roster the past two seasons, but he wasn’t in a position as a backup to be a take-charge presence. He wanted to give former starter Zach Wilson the room to grow, so he tried not to overstep.
Now it all revolves around Rodgers.
“I’ve been around some really good quarterbacks, but just the command he has with everything, it’s different,” said longtime tackle Duane Brown, who played with Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson with the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.
Rodgers is everywhere. He pops into positional meetings to share coaching points, adjustments and code words. “Little cheats,” he called them. He relies on hand signals at the line of scrimmage, so it’s imperative that everyone — especially the receivers — are on the same page as him.
Just recently, he joined an offensive line meeting to discuss pre-snap calls. Those are important because he uses his cadence as a weapon, drawing defenses offside to get free plays.
He wants everyone to know how he sees the game and how he likes to do things, and everyone is OK with that because … well, he’s Aaron Rodgers.
“He makes if different,” guard Laken Tomlinson said. “He makes it different with his confidence. He makes it different with his communication. He makes it different with his high level of play. Having all that mesh into that position, it’s truly special working with someone of that caliber. He makes everyone be on their A-game every day.”
Everybody, it seems, wants to pick Rodgers’ brain. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said he already has started to create a video with cut-ups from last season, starting with the Jets-Packers game. He wants to sit with Rodgers and get his take on how he attacked the Jets’ scheme, with the hope of using that knowledge to make improvements.
“I’ve been around a lot of superstars in this league that are very standoffish, that are very isolated, do their own thing, and he’s as inclusive as I’ve ever been around, especially for a player of that caliber,” said Ulbrich, adding that Rodgers provides constant feedback for the defensive coaches.
Everybody knows what Rodgers can do with the ball — eight seasons of at least 30 touchdown passes — but players and coaches seem just as excited about his cerebral talent at the line of scrimmage. Football is a chess game, and the Jets are going from novice to grand master.
Rodgers will have more leeway at the line to change plays, according to coach Robert Saleh, who believes his QB1’s hands-on approach fosters more collaboration in the classroom. The previous coordinator, Mike LaFleur, Matt’s younger brother, ran the offense in a traditional fashion: coaches coach, players play.
While the LaFleur brothers and Hackett all employ variations of the West Coast offense, the Jets’ version will be tailored to Rodgers’ strengths and wants. That probably means less pre-snap motion.
One of his pet peeves with Matt LaFleur’s system is that it relies heavily on motion. In fact, the Packers ran some form of motion on 596 plays last season, 10th-highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. (The Jets were fifth at 639 plays.) The LaFleurs learned from San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, whose system is predicated on motion.
Many coaches believe motion makes it easier to read defenses and create favorable matchups, but Rodgers prefers a static approach because it enables him to go up-tempo whenever he wants. As evidence, he notes that Manning did it this way with the Indianapolis Colts. Chances are, Rodgers will get his way.
“We see (the game) through the same lens,” Hackett said.
Rodgers’ goal is to have everyone in the offensive room feel the same way.