Robert Saleh on why he hired Nathaniel Hackett to run Jets’ offense

The Jets ended their search for an offensive coordinator on Thursday and, in the process, heated up speculation about their search for a new quarterback.

The Jets hired Nathaniel Hackett as the replacement for Mike LaFleur. Hackett is coming off a disastrous 15-game stint as Broncos head coach, but it is his previous stop that has Jets fans buzzing. Hackett served as the Packers offensive coordinator from 2019-21 and was very close with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose future is uncertain and could hit the trade market.

It is not hard to connect dots on this one, and it has Jets fans hoping that Rodgers will follow Hackett to New York. Jets coach Robert Saleh could not speak about Rodgers specifically since he is under contract with the Packers but downplayed the idea that Hackett’s connection to any specific player played a role in him getting hired.

“It doesn’t matter what the connections are,” Saleh said. “Everyone’s got a connection to everybody in this league. The most important thing was finding a guy who we felt could continue developing our young guys at a very high level and a guy who has done it before, a guy who has had success in this league with a variety of different quarterbacks.”

Robert Saleh hugs Nathaniel Hackett after the Jets’ win over the Broncos last season. Saleh said Hackett’s connection with Aaron Rodgers wasn’t the reason why he was hired as the Jets’ offensive coordinator.
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Nathaniel Hackett

One of those quarterbacks is Rodgers, who won back-to-back MVP awards with Hackett as his offensive coordinator in 2020-21. Hackett did not call the plays in Green Bay but was part of a successful offense and developed a close bond with Rodgers, who has spoken highly of Hackett. There was speculation last offseason that the Broncos hired Hackett hoping that Rodgers would follow him to Denver. So this is not new ground.

The Rodgers speculation will intensify now with Hackett on board, but a Rodgers trade remains a fantasy until Rodgers or the Packers say they want one to happen, and neither side has said that yet. If Rodgers does hit the market, the Jets or another team are going to have to be willing to give Green Bay the compensation they are seeking in a trade and pick up Rodgers’ $59 million salary in 2023 for a 39-year-old coming off his worst season. So, there are hurdles to clear.

Saleh said he interviewed more than 15 candidates for the offensive coordinator opening. There were seven known candidates — Hackett, former Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, Eagles passing game coordinator Kevin Patullo, Browns wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea, Broncos passing game coordinator Klint Kubiak and Patriots tight ends coach Nick Caley.

Saleh said Hackett, 43, filled what he was looking for.

“When it came back to a certain checklist that I was trying to go through, just checking boxes on what we were looking for in regard to this next offensive coordinator, I just kept circling back to him,” Saleh said. “He checks every box of what we were looking for. I’m really, really excited about being able to get Nathaniel here.”

Hackett has been an offensive coordinator for the Bills (2013-14), the Jaguars (2016-18) and Packers (2019-21). He called the plays in Jacksonville and last year for the Broncos. Hackett’s father, Paul, served as Jets offensive coordinator from 2001-04. Saleh and Hackett worked together in Jacksonville in 2015 and ’16. Hackett’s best work came in 2017 when he had the No. 2 offense in the NFL and went to the AFC Championship game with the Jaguars and Blake Bortles at quarterback.

Hackett runs a similar system to LaFleur, a West Coast-based offense. The Jets had a playoff-caliber defense last year but were dragged down by a struggling offense. Hackett must now help figure out who the new quarterback will be, build a running game with a revamped offensive line and develop the team’s young skill players. Saleh reiterated the plan still is to keep Zach Wilson and try to revive his career.

The Jets also hired Keith Carter to be their offensive line coach. Carter was fired by the Titans a few weeks ago after serving as their offensive line coach from 2018-22.

Saleh said every coordinator candidate asked about the quarterback position.

“The quarterback position, obviously with all the different interviews, was the No. 1 concern and rightfully so,” Saleh said. “It was simple. We’re committed to finding a veteran. We didn’t get into names. I doubt that [Hackett’s] even studied those guys yet, which he’s going to start next week. But we didn’t get into specifics on names but it was talked about that we do plan on bringing in a veteran quarterback if we can. We do want to continue working with Zach and continue to develop him.”