Watch CBS News

Jets hire Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator, fueling speculation they may target Aaron Rodgers

Jets graphic 00:12

NEW YORK -- The Jets made a move on Thursday that could lead to a much bigger acquisition down the road.

They announced the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett as their new offensive coordinator. The maneuver ended a wide search by head coach Robert Saleh and the Jets, who ESPN reported interviewed more than 15 candidates for the job.

"When it came back to a certain checklist that I was trying to go through," Saleh said during a video call, "just checking boxes with regard to what we were looking for from this next offensive coordinator, we just kept circling back to him. He checks every box that we're looking for."

Hackett, 43, is coming off a forgettable stint as Denver Broncos head coach, but has had success as a coordinator in the past, helping lead teams to three conference championship games -- the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017 and the Green Bay Packers in 2019 and 2020.

Of course, Hackett's affiliation with the Packers will likely continue to fuel all kinds of speculation the Jets will try to acquire future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose playing future is uncertain. Not long after the Jets finished the season 7-10 and missed the playoffs for a franchise-record 12th consecutive season, owner Woody Johnson said he would "absolutely" be on board with acquiring a veteran quarterback in the offseason.

Rodgers said recently during his weekly appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" on SiriusXM and YouTube he believes he can still play at an MVP-type level in the right situation. But the four-time MVP hasn't decided whether to return to the Packers, retire or request a trade.

Hackett's only season as Broncos head coach ended prematurely as he was fired after the team started 4-11 (and finished 5-12). During the offseason, ownership pulled off a massive trade with the Seattle Seahawks to get star quarterback Russell Wilson, but the move backfired, as Denver finished the season averaging just 16.9 points per game, dead last in the NFL.

"You've got to have the discipline to look past recency bias," Saleh said. "The fact of the matter is he got to Denver and he had that opportunity because of his life's work as an offensive coordinator and all the different things he's done in this league and how much respect he has garnered throughout the league."

So what's so attractive about Hackett? In addition to the potential Rodgers angle, as a coordinator Hackett has fielded a Top 10 scoring offense three times and worked with Saleh when they were on Jacksonville's staff in 2015 and 2016.

"He's got a laundry list of stuff that we're all really, really excited about," Saleh said of Hackett, who also served as Buffalo's offensive coordinator from 2013-14.

Hackett's father, Paul, was the Jets' offensive coordinator under Herm Edwards from 2001-04.

Saleh added the Jets still want to add a senior offensive assistant/adviser because he liked the structure the team had when the late Greg Knapp was on staff before the 2021 season.

The Jets also announced that Keith Carter was hired as the team's offensive line coach/run game coordinator, replacing the fired John Benton.

Regardless if the Jets go after a veteran quarterback -- they are also rumored to be interested in Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo, among others -- Hackett will be tasked with developing Zach Wilson, who at this point is considered a first-round draft bust. Mike LaFleur's failure to do so played a big part in his dismissal as offensive coordinator shortly after the regular season ended.

The Jets started 6-3 this season, only to lose seven of their last eight. However, they have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.

Wide receiver Garrett Wilson, an Offensive Rookie of the Year finalist, caught 83 passes for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns, despite the fact that the Jets played four different quarterbacks -- Wilson, Mike White, Joe Flacco and Chris Streveler.

Running back Breece Hall should also be a force, assuming he successfully returns from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in Week 7. A second-round pick in last year's draft, Hall amassed 463 yards on the ground on the strength of a stellar 5.8-yard-per-carry average, and added another 218 yards on 19 receptions, with five total touchdowns, before being lost. 

Though the offensive line struggled at times for various reasons and will look different in 2023, New York should benefit greatly from the return of versatile guard/tackle Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was lost for the season to a triceps injury in the same game Hall went down.

New York's defense finished the season fourth in yards allowed per game, 311.1, and fifth in points per game, 18.5, and boasts standout lineman Quinnen Williams and cornerback Sauce Gardner, who is up for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

But for the time being, all eyes will be on Rodgers, who many view as the perfect solution to a team that has a lot of upside, but is part of a franchise that has struggled seemingly forever to find a quarterback. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.