Saleh: If Rodgers says he wants to play, he'll play

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — If quarterback Aaron Rodgers wants to play again this season, he will play again. The New York Jets won’t stand in his way if he receives medical clearance, according to coach Robert Saleh.

“Aaron’s a big boy, a grown man, and no one’s going to know Aaron’s body like Aaron knows his body,” Saleh said Wednesday. “And if he feels after all the doctors clear him — I’m sure there’s a million of them, I have no idea — but if Aaron says he wants to play, he’s going to play.”

Saleh’s comment came one day after Rodgers, attempting to pull off an unprecedented return from a ruptured Achilles, reiterated his desire to play. He’s targeting mid-December, which would be about three months removed from surgery.

“We’ve got to be in the mix, and I’ve got to be healthy, and I definitely still want to come back,” Rodgers said Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show.”

Rodgers’ desire to play, which he stated immediately after his Sept. 13 surgery, was once thought to be far-fetched. But it soon could be a reality for the Jets (4-5) if they can remain in playoff contention. They’ve lost two in a row and face the Buffalo Bills (5-5) and Miami Dolphins (6-3) in a span of six days.

It’s a risk-reward decision, based on the nature of the injury, Rodgers’ age (he turns 40 on Dec. 2) and the team’s place in the standings. Saleh acknowledged those factors, but said the final call belongs to the four-time NFL MVP. No NFL player has returned to play in less than five months from Achilles surgery. Former Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers came back in 5½ months in 2021.

Saleh said the prospect of Rodgers’ return doesn’t add any pressure to win.

“The pressure to keep the season afloat is just to keep it afloat,” he said. “The pressure to go to the playoffs is always pressure. It’s not for any one individual. It’s not for any possibility. It’s for competitors who want to win football games, and I think Aaron’s just the icing.”

Rodgers, who was injured on the fourth play of the season, chose Los Angeles-based Dr. Neal ElAttrache to perform his surgery. Presumably, his personal medical team and the Jets’ medical staff would have to agree on clearing him to play. Rodgers has been rehabbing at a Los Angeles-based facility, flying to the Jets’ games on the weekend. He’s planning to rejoin the team on a full-time basis next week, he said.

“I would imagine he’s going to want to acclimate to the meetings and reconnect himself,” Saleh said. “There’s been a lot of changes to the system since he’s been out, and just trying to figure things out with the guys that we have.

“I have an admiration for him. We’re very young on the offensive side of the ball and his veteran presence is always welcome. [He’ll be able to] just get himself back in the building, get reacclimated around his teammates, re-involved in meetings. Then whenever his clock starts, it starts — if he’s able.”

If Rodgers is cleared to practice, he’ll have a 21-day window for roster activation. If he’s not activated by then, he will spend the rest of the season on injured reserve.

Without Rodgers, the Jets have struggled mightily on offense with Zach Wilson at quarterback, scoring a league-low eight touchdowns. Looking for a spark, they plan to activate rookie running back Israel Abanikanda for the first time. He will replace veteran Michael Carter, who was waived Tuesday in a surprising move.

“He’s a good young back and we felt like it wouldn’t be fair for Michael to just sit there and rot on the bench and ask him to be a great teammate and all that stuff,” Saleh said, explaining why they cut Carter instead of simply making him a healthy scratch.

“Selfishly, you want to hold him on the roster, just in case, but at the same time, they’re humans, too, and they want prove that they’re capable of doing things in the league,” Saleh added. “Sometimes that’s what it is.”

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