Rich CiminiESPN Staff Writer3 Minute Read
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Defending offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers jumped into the Sean Payton controversy Sunday with a scathing rebuke of the Denver Broncos coach.
“It made me feel bad that someone who has accomplished a lot in the league is that insecure that they have to take another man down to set themselves up for some easy fall if it doesn’t go well for that team this year,” Rodgers told NFL+ in a sit-down interview after practice. “I think it was way out of line, inappropriate, and I think he needs to keep my coaches’ names out of his mouth.”
Rodgers said Payton’s comments about Hackett “were very surprising” and out of character “for a coach to do that to another coach.”
In an interview with USA Today last week, Payton called Hackett’s 15-game run with the Broncos last season “one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the NFL” and said there were “20 dirty hands” around quarterback Russell Wilson‘s career-worst season that included 16 touchdown passes and a league-high 55 sacks.
Payton also jabbed the Jets, suggesting they were infatuated with the “pomp and circumstance” of a blockbuster offseason that included the acquisition of Rodgers. Payton hinted that the Jets were a “dream team” that is doomed to failure.
The Broncos’ new coach, hired in the offseason after one season as a Fox Sports analyst, eventually apologized for his remarks, calling them “a mistake.”
The Jets and Broncos play in Week 5 in Denver.
For Rodgers, this wasn’t just a critique of any coach. He and Hackett are very close. Rodgers said Sunday that “my love for Hack goes deep,” adding that Hackett is “arguably my favorite coach I’ve ever had in the NFL.”
Rodgers and Hackett worked together from 2019 to 2021 when Hackett served as the Green Bay Packers‘ offensive coordinator under Matt LaFleur. Rodgers was the NFL MVP in two of those seasons, helping Hackett land the Broncos’ head-coaching gig.
It was a disastrous year for Hackett, who went 4-11 before being fired. Jets coach Robert Saleh hired Hackett to replace Mike LaFleur, a move that was instrumental in luring Rodgers to New York.
“We had some great years together in Green Bay,” Rodgers told NFL+. “[We] kept in touch. Love him and his family. He’s an incredible family man and an incredible dad. And on the field, he’s arguably my favorite coach I’ve ever had in the NFL. Just his approach to it. He makes it fun, how he cares about the guys, just how he goes about his business with respect, with leadership, with honesty, with integrity.”
Payton’s stinging criticism certainly created a stir around the Jets, with Saleh also speaking out in Hackett’s defense.
“I kind of live by the saying, ‘If you ain’t got no haters, you ain’t popping,'” Saleh said. “So hate away. Obviously, we’re doing something right if you’ve got to talk about us when we don’t play you until [Week 5].”