What the NFL's 21-day practice window means for Aaron Rodgers and the Jets

Less than three months after suffering a torn Achilles, Aaron Rodgers was back on the practice field Wednesday

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Aaron Rodgers has taken another step toward a potential return.

The New York Jets opened the 21-day practice window for Rodgers on Wednesday after he was cleared for "functional football activity." Rodgers hasn't yet been cleared for contact.

The four-time NFL MVP tore his Achilles just a few snaps into his Jets debut on Sept. 11. Rodgers then underwent an innovative surgical procedure in the hopes of being able to return in the 2023 season.

And less than three months after sustaining the injury, the soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback was back on the practice field Wednesday.

So, now that Rodgers' practice window has opened, what does that mean in regard to his potential return to game action?

What is the 21-day practice window?

NFL teams can use the 21-day practice window for players on injured reserve. The window allows players on IR to practice without counting against the active 53-man roster.

Once the window is activated, teams have 21 days to either elevate players to the active roster or place them on season-ending IR (the players could also be traded or released). So Rodgers' practice window being opened doesn't necessarily mean he's guaranteed to return this season.

“For Aaron, what he will be doing in practice is no different than what he'd be doing on the field, with regards to certain drills and individual (drills),” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said. “Instead of throwing with staff members, he's throwing with teammates.

"A lot of guys coming off (injured reserve) are usually not ready to play football. There's usually still a little bit of a health concern there. So you use these 21-day windows to see where they're at."

“I promise Aaron is not going to do anything that puts himself in harm’s way if he's not healthy to play,” Saleh added. "Aaron is very, very smart. That’s not something he’s going to put himself at risk for. With that said, though, he is driven. He is achieving things that have never been achieved with regards to this injury and it’s the progression with regard to rehab he’s on.

“And I think it’s remarkable what he is doing, but he is also smart in regards to how fast it's going.”

Rodgers' practice window is set to expire on Dec. 20, just days before the Jets' Week 16 matchup against the Washington Commanders on Christmas Eve. Rodgers has previously said his goal was to return by mid-December.

But whether Rodgers actually suits up again in the 2023 campaign will not only depend on his health, but also the Jets' playoff chances.

“It’s always been, first, am I healthy? Then, are we alive? Are we in it? Are we playing good enough to make a run?," Rodgers said Tuesday on “The Pat McAfee Show.” "Can I step in and protect myself and play at the level that I’m capable of playing? But it’s health first and are we alive for the playoffs, second.”

While the 4-7 Jets are just two games back of the third and final AFC wild card spot, there are seven teams ahead of them who are also vying to get into a playoff position. And the Jets are trending in the wrong direction, having lost four straight where they failed to score more than 13 points in any game. New York's latest benching of former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson, this time in favor of Tim Boyle, didn't spark the offense in a 34-13 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Black Friday.

With the 5-6 Atlanta Falcons, 6-5 Houston Texans and 8-3 Miami Dolphins on the upcoming schedule, can the Jets manage to stay afloat and give Rodgers a chance to return this season? Or will the wait for Rodgers' return last until Week 1 of the 2024 season?

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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