Aaron Rodgers defends Zach Wilson, scolds Jets for leaks to media

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t hold back. Not only was he upset by a published report that he believes unfairly paints teammate Zach Wilson as “a kid quitting on the team,” but he blasted the organization for “chicken s—” leaks to the media.

“That’s a problem with the organization,” Rodgers said on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday. “We need to get to the bottom of whatever this is coming from and put a stop to it privately, because there’s no place in a winning culture where — and this isn’t the only time. There’s been a bunch of other leaks.”

Rodgers was referring to a report by The Athletic, which quoted unidentified sources as saying Wilson — benched two weeks ago — is reluctant to play again because of a perceived injury risk. The reeling Jets (4-8), losers of five straight, are making another quarterback change this week, with coach Robert Saleh poised to announce a decision Wednesday.

Saleh was leaning toward Wilson on Monday, a source confirmed. The other quarterbacks are Trevor Siemian and Brett Rypien, who was signed Tuesday off the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad. Tim Boyle, who started the past two games, was abruptly waived Tuesday.

Rodgers, back with the team full time as he continues to rehab his surgically repaired Achilles, questioned why a person affiliated with the team would want to “assassinate someone’s character like that report does for Zach.”

“I think it’s chicken s— at its core, and I think it has no place at a winning organization,” Rodgers said.

Wilson, perhaps in damage control, went to Saleh’s office Monday afternoon and told the coach he wants to start Sunday against the Houston Texans, according to Saleh. The coach claimed he has no issue with Wilson’s desire to play, yet he deferred his quarterback decision until Wednesday.

What likely happened, one source told ESPN, is that Wilson asked a teammate for advice on the risk-reward of playing a late-season game with no playoff implications — and from that word got out that he has reservations. Speaking generally, Saleh used the analogy of college players weighing the pros and cons of skipping bowl games to preserve their NFL draft value. Wilson probably will be looking for a new team in 2024, which might explain any concern about risking injury.

Still, this is professional football, and no player wants that stigma attached to his name. Rodgers said he hopes Wilson addresses the team Wednesday to clarify the situation.

“[The report is] basically saying that this kid is quitting on the team and doesn’t want to play and has given the middle finger to the organization,” Rodgers said “Now listen, I don’t want to speak for him because he’s getting a chance this week to speak and I’m going to let him speak.

“I’ll tell you that I love the kid and I’ve spent a lot of time with him, and I think he’s an amazing young man. … He’s gone through a lot of s— in the last three years, and he’s got every right to be frustrated and disappointed about it. I think he’s done a good job of standing up and taking accountability this year when it’s been his part to do it.”

Rodgers said he never spoke to Wilson on Monday to resolve the situation, as The Athletic reported, but he acknowledged that they speak every day. The four-time MVP, who hasn’t ruled out the possibility of returning to action this season, seemed particularly upset that internal conversations are being reported.

“Some conversations are only meant for certain people and shouldn’t leave the building,” he said. “There’s a trust that goes along with being in the locker room, where you say something to your homie and that s— doesn’t go anywhere. Or you say something in the team meeting room [and it] doesn’t go anywhere. There’s been too many instances this season where stuff is happening. It’s not OK, and we need to weed it out in whatever way necessary.”

Rodgers, traded to the Jets in April, said they made “amazing progress” from a culture standpoint through the spring and summer. When he was injured in Week 1, he returned home to do his rehab in California. After a Week 3 loss, he chided the Jets for their sideline outbursts, saying the team needs to stick together. Now, he said, they “need to fine-tune a couple of things, just tighten a few things up.”

“I believe in the individuals in the position of leadership,” he said. “I think that there’s, just like anywhere, there’s a lot of reactions that happen at various times, and some may be influenced by fans and pundits, maybe a little more than I’m used to. But I think it’s a great opportunity for us to stick together now and to just watch and see how it all plays out and how people respond to this adversity. It’s been a wild ride, and I look forward to taking back the reins pretty soon.”

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