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Aaron Rodgers criticizes ‘character assassination’ of Jets teammate Zach Wilson

By Ben Morse, CNN

(CNN) — New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers has criticized what he calls the “character assassination” of his teammate, Zach Wilson, in the media following reports that the former No. 2 overall pick was reluctant to retake the starting position after being benched earlier in the season.

According to the report from The Athletic, citing multiple team sources, the Jets want Wilson to return as the team’s starting quarterback for their Week 14 game against the Houston Texans after experimenting with Tim Boyle and Trevor Siemian in the position, but the third-year signal-caller was hesitant to do so “due to perceived injury risk.”

Rodgers, who suffered a torn Achilles just four snaps into his stint in New Jersey, said that he believed the report was “chickensh*t at its core,” adding that he “loves” Wilson.

“First of all, you can go down a whole rabbit hole with actual sources, made up sources, why is someone willing to be a source?” Rodgers said during his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday. “What are they gaining out of that?

“On and on and on, but when you use sources and, whether intentional or unintentional, try to assassinate someone’s character like that report does for Zach, I have a real hard time with that.”

The 40-year-old continued: “How can you read it any other way? You’re basically saying this kid is quitting on the team and doesn’t want to play and is giving the middle finger to the organization.

“I don’t want to speak for him. He’s going to get a chance this week to speak and I’m going to let him speak. … (But) he’s gone through a lot of sh*t in the last three years and he’s got every right to be frustrated and disappointed about it.”

CNN has reached out to Wilson to offer him the right of reply to the report. Wilson has not publicly responded to The Athletic’s reporting and is scheduled to speak to the media on Thursday.

Earlier this week, Jets head coach Robert Saleh was non-committal when asked about who would start at quarterback for his team’s Week 14 game against the Houston Texans on Sunday, though he denied reports that Wilson is reluctant to retake the starting position.

“Let’s be clear, if [Wilson] was reluctant to play, he wouldn’t be here,” said Saleh on Monday. “I actually coincidentally just got done speaking with him. He came in about a half hour ago and we had a really good conversation.

“The young man wants the ball. He wants to start. He believes he’s the best quarterback in the room and the best quarterback for this team and the guy who gives us the best chance to win,” added Saleh.

“We’re in a society now where kids miss bowl games because they’re worried about their draft status, right?” said Saleh. “So empathetically, if that discussion had been had somewhere, and again it wasn’t with me, but if that conversation was had and it somehow leaked out to the media, I don’t think that’s indicative of his mindset. The kid wants to play.”

The Athletic story quoted anonymous sources talking about Wilson’s reluctance to return as the Jets’ starter.

Four-time NFL MVP Rodgers expressed his displeasure of the culture of anonymous leaks from within the Jets organization.

“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 added: “Some conversations are only meant for certain people and shouldn’t leave the building.

“There’s a trust that goes along with being in the locker room, where you say something to your homie and that sh*t 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.”

CNN has offered the Jets a right of reply regarding Rodgers’ comments about anonymous leaks from within the organization.

Seeking their first postseason berth since 2010, the Jets – who waived Boyle on Tuesday and signed Brett Rypien from the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad – were given a glimmer of hope last week when Rodgers was cleared to practice, despite the initial expectation that he would be out for the remainder of the season.

However, it is still unclear when he will be able to play, if at all, this season.

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