By any standard, Aaron Rodgers is either the NFL's best quarterback, or near the top of a very, very short list. His career numbers -- a 65.7 percent completion rate, 171 touchdowns, and just 46 interceptions in 78 regular-season starts -- tend to boggle the mind. He's one of the best of all time both in and out of the pocket, and few passers in history can match his deep accuracy. Rodgers is on an absolute Hall of Fame track, and according to most of the people who know him, he's managed to stay relatively grounded and humble along the way.
So, why is it that Rodgers' former receivers are taking shots at him? Greg Jennings, who signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings in March after seven years with the Pack, has had all sorts of interesting things to say about the guy who delivered most of his 53 touchdown catches and helped him win a Super Bowl at the end of the 2010 season.
“I need to go back to my college days where the quarterback wasn’t just viewed as oh-so-great and still prove that I can be successful.” Jennings said in July. “A lot of times when you have a guy who creates that spotlight for himself and establishes that and takes a lot of that, it becomes so-and-so and the team,” he said. “It should always be the team ... Don’t get me wrong, ‘12’ is a great person. But when you hear all positives, all positives, all positives all the time, it’s hard for you to sit down when one of your teammates says ‘Man, come on, you’ve got to hold yourself accountable for this.’ It’s hard for someone to see that now because all they’ve heard is I’m doing it the right way, I’m perfect. In actuality, we all have flaws.”
Well, if Jennings wants to prove that he doesn't need a top-five quarterback to succeed, catching passes from Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel in Minnesota will certainly take care of that. But implying that Rodgers doesn't account for his own mistakes, or somehow throws his receivers under the bus? You don't see Rodgers do that publicly, though I'm sure he -- like most NFL quarterbacks -- will let a guy know after a while if ball security is an issue.
“People taking shots at me who aren’t relevant to this team and to this locker room doesn’t mean a whole lot to me," Rodgers recently told The MMQB's Peter King. "Those comments do wash over with me without a reaction, because they don’t matter.”
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Donald Driver, who played for the Packers from 1999 through '12 and retired in February, had this to say about Rodgers when asked on ESPN Radio Thursday morning:
“We’ve always said that the quarterback is the one that needs to take the pressure off everyone else. If a guy runs the wrong route, it’s easy for the quarterback to say, ‘Hey, I told him to run that route’ than for the guy to be like, ‘Well, I ran the wrong route.’ Sometimes you ask Aaron to take the pressure off the guys so we won’t look bad, but he didn’t want to do that. He felt like if you did something bad, you do it. But I think that’s the difference. You want that leadership, and I think sometimes you may not feel like you got it. You have to earn that respect at the end of the day, and I think that’s what Greg was probably referring to.
“He’s a nice guy. I think that’s what you have to respect. I played with him five years so I was able to experience everything he went through. I saw when he first got drafted, he came in with a chip on his shoulder in that draft, and it shouldn’t have been Alex Smith [taken No. 1 overall]. That’s the way the guy is. I’ve always told Aaron, ‘Don’t forget where you come from because the people are the ones who put you on that pedestal. You didn’t put yourself there.’ I think that’s what we learning now. I’m not saying he’s a bad guy, I think he’s a great guy. I’m friends with Aaron.”
Friendly, but with an edge. Do Rodgers' receivers have an issue with him? It seems like a legitimate question at this point, though there have been no public issues thus far -- certainly none to this degree.
Driver went to his Facebook page to try to clarify his comments.
"Out [of] my 15 interviews talking about Target donating $5,000,000 to education, it is interesting that only 1 or 2 random quotes become a big deal," Driver (or someone representing Driver) wrote. "I predicted a Super Bowl for the Packers in 10 or so interviews, and that starts with Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history!"
When Rodgers was talking to King, he summed up his process as a team leader, which is a pretty good way to wrap up this entire subject.
“I take it really seriously. It’s important to me. I look for my opportunities, not trying to go outside of my genuine realm, because leadership has to be genuine and authentic. I might pull a receiver aside and give him a little tidbit in the locker room, in the lunchroom. I think you need to be intentional at times about your leadership -- where you’re eating lunch, who you’re interacting with, making guys feel like you’re interested in what they’re doing. If it’s authentic, then it’s going to be an easy conversation and easy hangout time. Nicknames and inside jokes go a long way with players, especially guys that maybe aren’t on your side of the ball. Like, I just found out that Andy Mulumba, our new outside backer [full name Andy Leon Mulumba Kabaluapa; he was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] -- one of his names means ‘King of the Village’ and the other one means, ‘You’re Not Welcome Here.’ Instead of calling him You’re Not Welcome Here, I’ve been calling him King of the Village.
I want to be the best. I want to be counted on by my teammates. I want to be counted on by this organization and the fans. I want to be someone they know is going to bring it every single week. I prepare to be the best. I train in the offseason to be the best. I take it very seriously, and I’ve still got a long way to go.”
Sounds like a leader to us. Do leaders occasionally rub people the wrong way? Only if they're doing their jobs to the best of their abilities.