GREEN BAY – Charles Woodson has been watching, reading. And, wondering.
“I’m not sure where all this stuff is coming from,” the former Green Bay Packers defensive leader said Friday afternoon, in a phone interview from New Orleans, where his new team – the Oakland Raiders – was about to face the New Orleans Saints in a preseason game. “I just don’t understand.”
Woodson, whom the Packers released on Feb. 15, knows all about the criticism that quarterback Aaron Rodgers has absorbed in the last two months from two of his former wide receivers – first from now-Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings, and then earlier this week from retired wide receiver Donald Driver. And Woodson feels the picture they’ve painted of their former quarterback – whom Woodson repeatedly referred to by his nickname, “A-Rod” – isn’t an accurate one.
“I don’t understand where it’s all coming from,” Woodson said again. “I think A-Rod would consider these guys his friends, so for stuff like this to be coming out about him now that the guys are gone, it’s got to be hurtful to him because what are they talking about, to question his leadership ability, his leadership skills? The guy is one of the best players in the NFL, and I think he does a great job as far as leading them into battle.
“I’m not sure where the attacks – and believe me, they are not warranted, for sure – I don’t know where it’s coming from.”
Woodson, who joined the Packers as an unrestricted free agent from Oakland in 2006, spent two seasons with the team when Brett Favre was the starting quarterback and Rodgers, the team’s first-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, was his backup. Woodson was also there for the uncomfortable – and that’s being extremely polite – summer of 2008, when Rodgers ascended to the starting job. And he was there for the past four seasons, including the team’s Super Bowl XLV title, when he believes Rodgers became the best quarterback in the NFL.
Woodson said the fact that Rodgers hasn’t defended himself in the wake of Jennings’ comments earlier this offseason or Driver’s comments Thursday on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike and has focused on players that are on the team currently says more about his leadership than any response he could have made to either player.
“I just think the best thing that A-Rod does, he’s been able to keep a lot of things from getting to him,” Woodson said. “The way he came in following a legend and handled those pressures, his ability to be a steady guy throughout that time and then going out and performing at the level he performed, that shows leadership. And he’s continued to get better. Every player should look at him and say, ‘Here’s a guy who’s really on top of the world, and he’s trying to get better. That’s what I think is so hard to understand about what (Jennings and Driver) said.”
Woodson was then asked what the motivation might be for Jennings and Driver to speak out, and if he thought the public criticisms of Rodgers dating back to last season – when tight end Jermichael Finley’s agent, Blake Baratz, questioned Rodgers’ leadership via Twitter and NFL on CBS commentator Shannon Sharpe did as well – might have some truth to them.
“It might be a receiver thing,” he said, chuckling.
Then, after a pause, Woodson turned serious.
“I would say this: There’s been times throughout my career there when defensively we put a piss-poor product on the field, and we’ve been in games and won ballgames solely on the arm of Aaron Rodgers and the legs of Aaron Rodgers and what he’s been able to do throwing a ball to a Greg, a Donald, a Jermichael,” Woodson said. “A couple years ago, we were 15-1, and if we have any other quarterback other than Aaron Rodgers, we’re 7-9.
“Aaron’s job is a tough job. You’ve got a stud wide receiver in Greg Jennings – and make no mistake, Greg is a great wide receiver – but you have to keep him happy. You have Donald Driver, you have to keep him happy. You have Jermichael Finley, you have to keep him happy. You have running backs on the team, and you’re trying to find where they can get carries and keep them happy. You have an offensive line, they don’t just want to pass set all the time; they want to run downhill and run block, and you have to keep them happy. You have to keep James Jones, who wants to be on the field, you have to keep him happy. And we haven’t even talked about a Jordy Nelson, or a young Randall Cobb. And who does all that fall on? It falls on the quarterback.
“What do you want the guy to do? He’s done everything he possibly can to keep everyone happy when guys want the ball for themselves. The way he’s been able to do it is incredible. Don’t get me started on the Super Bowl run. I mean, how brilliant was that guy during that run? There was no question about his leadership then.
“And who did the throw two touchdowns to in the Super Bowl? Greg Jennings. To me, I almost lost it thinking about these attacks flying A-Rod’s way. They are just unwarranted attacks. I don’t understand what place they’re coming from with these guys.
“I mean, Greg’s not even there anymore. He’s a Minnesota Viking. They paid him a lot of money to be there. You don’t have any worries. He should be just fine. He should leave all things Packers alone. He should keep that to himself and if he wants to take it out on (Rodgers), do it the week they play. I’m just not understanding all these attacks on A-Rod.”
Asked about Driver’s assertion on Mike & Mike Thursday that Rodgers failed to take the heat off his receivers because he refused to take the blame for times when they might have run the wrong route, Woodson laughed.
“I think whatever you do – if you run the wrong route and you’re a receiver, or if you’re a quarterback and you throw an interception – it’s up to you as an individual to say you messed up,” Woodson said. “I don’t think A-Rod has to be sticking his neck out to say I told him to do something if that’s not what happened. If A-Rod needs to take the blame for something, I’m quite sure he does.
“I didn’t understand that part, either. There’s no question in my mind that A-Rod’s the leader of that team and he does a great job. Maybe he thought he had some friends where he doesn’t have some friends. Now that those guys are gone, they’re voicing this. I don’t know how that’s fair.”
Woodson also pointed out that he didn’t leave the Packers under his ideal circumstances, having been released by the team he thought he would spend the rest of his career with. Since he arrived in Oakland, however, he hasn’t criticized his former team, despite his clear willingness to speak out when he wants to.
“I guess everybody has their own relationships with other people or with the organization or the community or whatever. Everyone has their own deal,” Woodson said. “For me, my time in Green Bay was nothing less than exceptional. The good that I experienced there far outweighed the bad. So I’m thankful for every minute I spent in Green Bay and I really feel like the friends that I’ve made there in Wisconsin, I feel like I’d be disrespecting them if I did say something bad about the organization or my time there.
“These are friends I feel like I’ll have the rest of my life. Yeah, I got fired. I might be a little bitter about being fired. Who wouldn’t be? But that’s it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.