A beloved, former MVP quarterback for the Green Bay Packers mulls over retirement. How much does he have left in the tank? Is it possible to get over the hump and win with the team as constructed? There’s a former first round pick on the bench, and perhaps it’s time to move on. The Packers want to pull off the Band-Aid and transition into a new era, but the legendary QB isn’t ready to call it a career just yet.
It’s 2008 and the quarterback is Brett Favre. It’s 2023 and the quarterback is Aaron Rodgers. After months of drama both will end up on the New York Jets.
The eerie similarities between Favre and Rodgers’ path through the NFL has been one of the most bizarre aspects of this offseason. In both cases we had a desperate Jets team willing to do anything to win a Super Bowl, with the belief that all they were missing was a top-tier quarterback to put them over the top.
Let’s take a trip back to 2008 to see what made that Jets team tick, how it compares to now, and whether history will keep repeating itself again in the most crushing way.
Understanding the Jets in 2007
It’s the second year of Eric Mangini’s tenure as Jets head coach. Hopes were high entering the year, with the rookie head coach leading the team to a 10-6 record, turning a page on years of Herm Edwards mediocrity. Defensively the Jets were pretty incredible, boasting a top-10 unit on the back of an incredible linebacker corps featuring Jonathan Vilma, Victor Hobson, and Eric Barton behind a brutal defensive line. The secondary was a little shaky, but the team decided to give it some help by using their first round pick on a promising young corner out of Pittsburgh named Darrelle Revis.
On paper the team’s defense looked at least good enough to slow down Tom Brady, hopefully stealing a win in the AFC East and punching their ticket to the playoffs where anything could happen.
The wheels fell off immediately. By the middle of October the Jets were 1-5, with their lonely win being a sad three-point victory over the hapless Miami Dolphins. The Jets were absolutely devastated by injuries at some of their most crucial positions. 10 players would end up on IR, including Jonathan Vilma, and their top receiver Laveranues Coles.
This was all compounded by Mangini losing faith in long-time quarterback Chad Pennington, making the switch to Kellen Clemens, who Mangini has drafted the year before as the heir apparent at the position. It didn’t take long to realize Clemens wasn’t it either — and the Jets finished the season at a sad 4-12, and at a crossroads.
The biggest issue is that the Jets didn’t have the right person at quarterback for their vision. Pennington spent years thriving in a West Coast offense, which was ideal for him. Quick, short passing allowed Pennington to showcase his greatest attributes in his accuracy and decision making, while masking his lack of elite arm strength. New offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer installed an Air Coryell system upon arriving in New York, which required a quarterback with a cannon for an arm who could gash teams deep with play action passes set off an interior run game. Neither Pennington, nor Clemens could run the Coryell effectively.
When you need someone to take big shots downfield, you get yourself a gunslinger.
Enter Brett Favre
The Packers were ready to hand the torch to Aaron Rodgers, but Favre wasn’t ready to leave football. Favre retired from the NFL, only to come back just as training camp began. Desperate to find a trade partner, Green Bay sent Favre to the Jets for a conditional fourth-round pick.
The hype was real. Sure, the Jets were coming off a terrible season — but it was one shaped by injury and poor QB play. Now all their key defenders would be back, Revis was already shaping up to be the best cornerback in the league, and Favre was coming off a 4,155 passing yard season, which would have been good enough to be named NFL MVP in any other season, except that Tom Brady had just thrown 50 touchdowns.
The team didn’t just get Favre, it went all in — assembling a who’s who of stars designed to win the Super Bowl right now. They got All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, pass rusher Calvin Pace, right tackle Damian Woody, and traded for All-Pro defensive tackle Kris Jenkins.
With the trenches now set, the secondary brimming with talent and Favre at quarterback this team was going to knock the Patriots off their perch and hoist the Lombardi.
Instead they went 9-7 and missed the playoffs.
What went wrong?
There were really two issues here: First, the Jets didn’t do nearly enough to address their lack of weapons, and second, Brett Favre was kind of crap.
While immense amounts of money went into upgrading the defensive line, the belief was that Favre would make the receiving corps immensely better simply through his own brilliance. It quickly became apparent that Coles and Jerricho Cotchery weren’t enough, and depth chart fell off a cliff after those two.
Favre began forcing the ball, trying to make something happen downfield — and it resulted in 22 interceptions on the season. This was compounded by a defense that lacked chemistry thanks to the wholesale changes in the offseason, and when the Jets traded away Jonathan Vilma seeking more upgrades, his loss as an organizational leader was too much to overcome.
In short: The Jets made the mistake of not just adding Favre to an already good team, but tearing up everything with the belief they could upgrade everything overnight.
It’s here where things differ to the 2023 Jets.
The biggest difference from 2008 to 2023 is that while New York added more pieces for Aaron Rodgers (many at his own behest) the team hasn’t torn apart its basic foundation. Leaders have been retained on both sides of the ball, and they have a better suite of weapons for Rodgers to operate in.
Let’s directly compare each facet of the teams on offense.
2008: Thomas Jones, Leon Washington, Jesse Chatman
2023: Breece Hall, Dalvin Cook, Michael Carter
2023 has the better backs
2008: Laveranues Coles, Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, Brad Smith
2023: Garrett Wilson, Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Mecole Hardman
2023 has the better receivers
2008: Dustin Keller and Chris Baker
2023: Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah
2023 has the better tight ends
2008: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Alan Faneca, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore, Damian Woody
2023: Duane Brown, Laken Tomlinson, Connor McGovern, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Mehti Becton
2008 has the better o-line
With the exception of the offensive line, the 2023 iteration of the Jets are vastly better. This isn’t to say the current protection is bad either, it’s more than in 2008 the Jets had a suite of absolute monsters to protect Favre.
The wild card is quarterback. This part is largely subjective, but at the point in both their careers I think it’s clear that Aaron Rodgers is better than Brett Favre. Favre was a gutsy big arm that made huge plays, but he struggled out of structure and couldn’t do much if his weapons were sub-par. Meanwhile Rodgers is inheriting the best weapons he’s had in years, after making chicken salad out of chicken shit for years in Green Bay.
Defensively the teams are fairly similar. In both cases we have the best cornerback in the league playing for the Jets, but there’s much more continuity now than there was in 2008. Rather than throwing star players at the wall and seeing who’ll stick like they did in 2008, the Jets have a more cohesive defensive unit that simply has to be a continuance of last year, rather than re-invent the wheel.
The comparisons really end with the QBs being from the same teams.
It is a bizarre stroke of similarity, and there’s certainly a chance we could see the 2023 Jets implode like their 2008 counterparts, but the Jets of today are in a much better position to succeed than the Favre-led Jets.
This is a team that’s built to win right now with a better quarterback using only minor tweaks to put them over the top, while in Mangini’s era the team felt the need to make changes at almost every position. It’s for this reason I’m bullish on the Jets in 2023, and hey, if it doesn’t work out Rodgers can always head to Minnesota next year and keep the history rolling.
That would be too perfect.
This content was originally published here.