The Green Bay Packers returned to Wisconsin for offseason workouts Monday, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasted no time in firing back at a Bleacher Report story, calling its detailed description of the team’s dysfunction “a smear attack” using “mostly irrelevant, bitter players” as sources and disputing that he was told to not “be the problem” going forward.
The story had ripped the cover off a quarterback-coach disconnect that led to the firing of Mike McCarthy in early December. In the report, Rodgers’s leadership was questioned, along with his alleged attempts to undermine his head coach because of hard feelings that reportedly stemmed from the 2005 draft. Rodgers was depicted as hypersensitive to criticism and as someone who believes he’s smarter than his coaches, reportedly saying that McCarthy has a “low football IQ.”
The story also quoted a phone conversation between Rodgers and Packers President Mark Murphy in which Murphy reportedly told the quarterback, who is the NFL’s highest-paid player, “don’t be the problem” under Coach Matt LaFleur.
“The thing is about the article, it’s — it’s not a mystery. This was a smear attack by a writer looking to advance his career talking with mostly irrelevant, bitter players who all have an agenda, whether they’re advancing their own careers or just trying to stir old stuff up,” Rodgers said in an interview with Jason Wilde and former Packers tackle Mark Tauscher on ESPN Radio’s “Wilde and Tausch” show after the team’s first workout under LaFleur. “What happens is the same tired media folks picking it up and talking about it. This just emphasized their opinion about me already. So it’s . . . the crazy thing is there’s super-slanted opinions in that piece stated as facts, and then there’s quote-unquote ‘facts’ which are just outright lies.”
The report, the product of a lengthy investigation by Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne, who previously covered the Packers, has “a number of inaccurate or incorrect opinions or facts,” according to Rodgers.
“The first is the Mark Murphy conversation, because part of it the article seems to want to say the Packers are worried about me as the leader of the football team moving forward,” Rodgers said. “And before I get in to what actually happened on the conversation with Mark, I want to say two things. One, if they knew that, then why would they offer me a contract last year? And two, if I really disliked Mike that much, then why would I re-sign knowing that if I play well and we do what we do around here, it’s going to be me and Mike my entire career?”
Rodgers added that the idea that Murphy told him, “don’t be the problem,” was “100 percent, patently false. . . . I talked to Mark, like, last week. I said, ‘Mark, did you tell somebody about the conversation?’ He goes, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ I said, ‘Because that’s not what happened.’ He told me: ‘Of course, that’s not what happened. We had a great conversation. Like we always do.’ That’s just one point in that article, among a number of highly questionable things.”
Another problem, according to Rodgers, is that two of the named sources, Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings, have been publicly critical of him in the past. “Every time there’s something [negative] about me, it’s the same two guys,” Rodgers said, noting that he had gotten supportive calls from “over 100” current and former coaches and players since the story appeared.
“I was 15 feet away in the locker room from you for years,” he said of Finley and Jennings. “If you had a problem with my leadership, come talk to me. If you have a problem about the way I’m doing something or if I said something you didn’t like, come talk to me. This is years later now. They haven’t been in our locker room [for years], and it’s the same tired stories.”
Rodgers and McCarthy had a 13-year run that included eight postseason appearances as well as a Super Bowl victory, and McCarthy often is credited with improving Rodgers’s mechanics. But the dynamic was dysfunctional from the get-go last season, with Rodgers complaining that McCarthy had allowed his quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, to leave. Rodgers called it “absolutely ridiculous” that he would have nursed a grudge since 2005 because McCarthy, then with the 49ers, played a role in the decision to draft Alex Smith with the first pick rather than Rodgers, who was famously left hanging at the draft until falling to the Packers with the 24th pick.
The Bleacher Report story landed just after McCarthy discussed his firing for the first time, saying, “it couldn’t have been handled any worse.” He pointed out that Rodgers always was “heavily involved in game-planning each week and scheme design each year. I entrusted him and empowered him more than any other quarterback I’ve ever been around, especially at the line of scrimmage.” Rodgers took the unusual step of publicly questioning the schemes after a victory over Buffalo last season, something he said now that he wishes he had not done.
“We have had issues, no doubt about it. Any long relationship has issues. But the way that we dealt with those issues, Mike and I, was face to face. We had conversations,” Rodgers said. “Things didn’t fester [for] weeks, months, years. It’d be up in his office, it’d be after a Thursday practice down in the big team room, it’d be in the quarterback room, it’d be in my house sometimes, it’d be at his house sometimes. We spent time together, we talked about things.
“Even at the most difficult moments, when I was stubborn about something or he was stubborn about something, the conversation ended the same way every time. We came to an agreement and agreed to move forward on the same page. We got up, we hugged each other, we told each other that ‘I love you and I respect you’ and then we moved forward together. That’s what happened.”
The story alleged that McCarthy was pretty much mailing it in last season, going so far as to get massages at the same time as team meetings. And it could leave McCarthy facing a great deal of repair work if he is to coach again in the NFL. He still lives in Green Bay, and Rodgers said he hopes fans take the high road with McCarthy.
“We had a hell of a run. We had 13 years, four NFC championship [games], one Super Bowl, eight straight playoffs, 19 straight wins. So, instead of trashing this guy on the way out, let’s remember the amazing times that we had together,” Rodgers said. “Mike lives here. Mike has young kids here. So Mike has to be here. Think about how difficult it is for him. My favor that I would ask of you, strongly, is if you see Mike, shake his hand. Tell him thanks for the memories. Tell him thanks for the coaching job that he did. Tell him how much you appreciate him being a part of what we built here.”
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