Aaron Rodgers has cleared the air and made his intentions clear: He wants to play for the New York Jets in 2023.
Rodgers made an extended appearance on The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday and explained his desired location for his 19th season in the NFL and where he currently stands at this point in his career.
"At this point as I sit here, I think since Friday I've made it clear that my intention was to play and my intention was to play for the New York Jets," Rodgers said.
When Rodgers began his much-discussed darkness retreat, however, he believed he was headed toward retirement after 18 seasons in Green Bay. It was only once he emerged from the darkness that he realized he still wanted to play.
"I gotta admit I went into the darkness 90 percent retiring, 10 percent playing," Rodgers said. "That's where my mind was, my mind was 'I'm tired of this.' I hadn't gotten back in my workouts yet, and I thought that's what was best for me. So I went into the darkness, and I contemplated a lot of different things, but one day I spent entirely on the reality I was retired, and one I spent on the reality that I was coming back and playing.
"And I just sat with that for hours and hours, what that looked like, what the reality is, how that all felt, and when I came out I was really interested in what the landscape was, where Green Bay was at, and if I wanted to play what the options were."
Upon learning the Packers -- the only team he's ever known -- were shopping him, Rodgers understood the time was now to start a new chapter in a different city.
Rodgers didn't mince words when discussing a variety of topics, including Green Bay's gradual process of shifting toward a future that would include Jordan Love, not Rodgers, as its franchise quarterback. He was effusive in his praise for the city of Green Bay, the Packers fanbase, and his own standing among the franchise's greats, but also didn't shy from acknowledging that front office changes and decisions made by the club in recent years placed him on a course headed for divorce.
The words of Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy -- that the Packers would like to "create a situation where it's kind of a win for both sides" -- only made the anticipated split more obvious.
What Rodgers intended to make painstakingly clear is that he's already made up his mind: He wants to be a New York Jet. He just doesn't hold the power to make that a reality, resulting in the waiting game to which the entire NFL world has been subjected this week.
How he arrived at that point was quite simple: The Jets paid him a visit, and he eventually admitted he wasn't ready to walk away from the game. With the Packers signaling they're ready to move on without him, New York became an attractive destination for Rodgers. It didn't hurt that the franchise had already flown out to sell him on the idea.
"No malice, no bitterness towards the Packers. It's been bittersweet for sure, the last 10 days," Rodgers said. "So I've shifted my focus to entertaining what playing would look like, and the Packers granted permission for the Jets to come out and visit, we had a nice visit, they decided to leave their cars on the street, which attracted paparazzi attention, which was pretty funny. But we had a nice conversation, and I told them 'Listen, I'm not ready to make a decision about anything, I want to get back into my workouts and see how I feel, to really hit it hard for a week and see if the drive and the passion is still there, and then I'll see where we're at.'
Rodgers continued: "And I haven't been holding anything up at this point, it's been compensation that the Packers are trying to get for me, and kind of digging their heels in, so it is interesting at this point to step back and take a look at the whole picture. From my side all the love, appreciation and gratitude for everything Green Bay has done for me… And also the reality of the situation, like it is what it is. The Packers would like to move on. They've let me know that in so many words, they've let other people know that in direct words. And because I still have that fire and I want to play, I'd like to play in New York, it's just a matter of getting that done at this point."
NFL Network Insider Tom Pelissero reported on Wednesday that the Packers and Jets continue to negotiate trade terms, however Green Bay is not seeking multiple first-round draft picks in a deal. Pelissero added that Rodgers' current contract includes a $58.3 million option bonus that has a deadline of the day before the Packers' 2023 season open to be exercised.
As the NFL world has awaited Rodgers' next move -- not his decision, which Rodgers already made clear Wednesday -- secondary pieces carrying connections to Rodgers have shifted. Nathaniel Hackett, Rodgers' former offensive coordinator in Green Bay, now holds the same title in New York. Rodgers' trusted receiver, Allen Lazard, agreed to a four-year deal with the Jets on Tuesday. Everything appears to be falling into place.
But contrary to popular belief, this is not the product of Rodgers playing kingmaker. The Jets aren't working through a checklist to secure Rodgers, the quarterback said.
"That's so ridiculous," Rodgers told The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday. "I'll speak for myself. I'm sure there will be people that have their sources, but from what I'm seeing, I had a sheet of paper when I met with the Jets and said sign these people. That's not the reality. It's so stupid to think that I would do that, No. 1. Now, did they ask me about certain guys I played with over the years? Of course. Did I talk glowingly about teammates that I love? Yeah -- why wouldn't you? Like, do I love those guys on the list? Of course.
"Do I make demands about certain people? ... I mean, It's just ... and it goes to just like, people want these things to be so true. They're like, I'm in this meeting, you know, dressed in ceremonial regalia giving them some sort of hand-written on parchment demand list of people they need to sign. Listen, I think objectively a lot of people can look at Allen Lazard and go, 'He's a really good player. We would love to have him on our team.' And then anybody with a brain would maybe call me on any team and go, 'What kind of locker room guy is Allen Lazard? What's his work ethic like?' And I would say, 'He's f---ing great dude. Anybody would be lucky to have him in the locker room. If somebody asks me about Big Dog (Marcedes Lewis) or Cobby (Randall Cobb) or I don't even know who else is on that list, I'd say the same thing. … First of all, who wouldn't want Odell (Beckham) on their team? Like, c'mon, what are we talking about here? I don't have demands. My only demand is transparency and if you say some bulls---t, like, sometimes it's not even worth it."
Rodgers pushed back against a similar narrative as it relates to Hackett, whom he described as "not just a f---ing great human, he's a great football coach."
If ever an interview is deserving of a summary, it was this one, and it comes down to a few key points: Rodgers knows the Packers don't want him anymore, he still wants to play, and he sees New York as an ideal fit for his goals. It helps that a couple of friendly faces are already in place in New York, but he didn't demand they be with the Jets to convince him to join the team -- which still isn't a reality. And he holds no ill will toward Green Bay -- at least, not the city or the franchise's devoted fans.
Oh, and there's one more thing -- he knows he's a legend in Green Bay, and isn't afraid to talk about it. All that's left, Rodgers believes, is to give him a proper exit.
"Well listen, I think my plea is, and I will say this is debatable, but I would say I'm debatably the best player in franchise history," Rodgers said. "I'm in the conversation for sure. What's not debatable is I'm the longest tenured Packer in history. You can debate the first part, Bart (Starr), Brett (Favre), a number of names have been incredible, but can't debate anybody's been there longer than I have. And nobody has bled green and gold like me.
"I love that city, I love those fans, and I love that region. ... It was never about that. Now it's about the reality of the situation, and I think there are probably people who are really wanting to move on, and I get it. I'm not upset about it, I have nothing but love in my heart for every Packer fan. My life is better because of my time in Green Bay. But we just got to look at the reality.
"They want to move on, they don't want me to come back. And that's fine, they're ready to move on with Jordan, that's awesome. And Jordan's going to be a great player, he's a f---ing great kid, he had a really great year this year, and is getting better. He's got a bright future ahead of him, and they've got a good young team. ... But the fact of the matter is you have an aging face of the franchise for the last 15 years that it's time to do right by."