Coming into the 2023 NFL season, Jets fans had hoped Aaron Rodgers would add his name to the best quarterbacks in franchise history. There was certainly reason to think he could, as the four-time MVP is the best player to have ever signed with Gang Green.
Unfortunately—both for him and Jets fans—the 39-year-old tore his Achilles tendon on only his fourth regular-season snap with the team. Given his age (he’s the oldest player in the league) and the severity of his injury, it’s possible the former Packer may never step on the field again, either in New York or in any NFL stadium.
Nonetheless, Rodgers remains optimistic about his comeback, expressing his intention to rejoin the Jets after a surgery to mend his tendon, aiming for a return by the season's end. If and when he does, he’ll have an opportunity to become a franchise great.
Until then, the Jets’ list of all-time great quarterbacks will have to remain as is. But who is on that list? Here are the five quarterbacks whose performances with the team have solidified their status as the best in franchise history.
5. Mark Sanchez
After being drafted by the Jets with the No. 5 pick out of USC, the rookie quarterback led the team to the 2009 AFC title game. He repeated the feat the following year in a playoff run that saw him throw three touchdowns to beat the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round.
Unfortunately, things only went downhill from there. After the 2010 season ended with Sanchez turning in a poor performance in the AFC title game, the Jets failed to surround him with as much talent as they had in his first two years, and he struggled in his remaining time in New York.
That remaining time included the infamous “butt fumble” that saw Sanchez cough up the ball after running into the backside of his offensive lineman. Still, for going 4-2 in the playoffs and being a solid game manager over his first two seasons, he earns a place on this list.
4. Chad Pennington
This Rhodes Scholar brought intelligence and savviness to his play behind center, but it was his toughness that earned him the respect of Jets fans. The former Marshall quarterback regularly crashed into defenders and displayed fieriness in his leadership of Gang Green, which he guided to the playoffs in three of his seven seasons.
Ultimately, though, Pennington’s body let him down. After logging the highest passer rating in the NFL in 2002, Pennington broke his hand before the 2003 season. He then tore a rotator cuff in 2004 and underwent another shoulder surgery in 2005. While he won Comeback Player of the Year in 2006, the injuries had depleted his skills, and he left the team in 2008.
3. Vinny Testaverde
Few fans could have expected much from Vinny Testaverde when he came to New York in 1998. The 34-year-old had enjoyed only one winning season over his 11-year career, and he had led the NFL in interceptions twice.
It only took a few games for the Long Island native to show that he had something left in the tank. After serving as a backup for his first three games, he became the starter in week 4 and proceeded to go 12-1 over the remainder of the regular season while throwing 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He then guided the Jets to the AFC title game and was named to the Pro Bowl.
Heading into the 1999 season, the Jets had high hopes for another great season from Testaverde. Unfortunately—like with Rodgers more than two decades later—Testaverde tore his Achilles tendon in week 1, causing him to miss the entire season. He returned the following year and, prior to leaving the franchise in 2003, led the Jets to a second playoff appearance.
2. Ken O’Brien
Ken O’Brien helped guide the Jets to three playoff appearances over his nine seasons in New York. He also made the Pro Bowl twice and to this day ranks second in most of the franchise’s passing records.
The problem for New York fans is that he was not Dan Marino. In the 1983 draft, the Jets front office had the opportunity to take Marino, the All-American from Pittsburgh, with the No. 24 pick but opted for O’Brien instead. O’Brien had a good career, but he never reached the Hall of Fame heights of Marino.
O’Brien does have one leg up on the Miami Dolphins quarterback, however. In the 1986 regular season, O’Brien and Marino engaged in one of the greatest shootouts in NFL history. O’Brien, who threw for 479 yards and four touchdowns, came out on top, leading the Jets to a 51-45 victory.
1. Joe Namath
There was never any doubt about who would be No. 1 on this list. Broadway Joe was a five-time Pro Bowler and a two-time AFL Player of the Year. He set—and still holds—most of the franchise’s passing records. He guaranteed his 17-point underdog Jets would win Super Bowl III, and then he went out and marshaled them to victory, winning the Super Bowl MVP in the process.
His on-the-field achievements speak for themselves, but it’s also what he did off the field that made him a legend. Like Muhammad Ali, Namath became a pop-culture icon thanks to his style and swagger. His celebrity and charisma even led to him taking on acting roles in both movies and on TV.
Following his retirement, Namath was inducted into the Hall of Fame. While Aaron Rodgers may one day hope to be a franchise great, for Jets fans, there will never be another Broadway Joe.