NFC North: Ryan Braun

MANKATO, Minn. -- I wasn't in attendance at Friday's media availability with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. From a distance, though, it appears Rodgers handled his once-vehement defense of now-disgraced baseball player Ryan Braun with appropriate levels of honesty, personal culpability and humanity.

Rodgers didn't mince words, saying he was "shocked" that Braun lied to him about using performance enhancing drugs. "I was backing up a friend who looked at me in the eye on multiple occasions and repeatedly denied these allegations, said they weren't true," Rodgers said."... It doesn't feel great being lied to like that, and I'm disappointed about the way it all went down."

He said he had no regrets about defending a friend but acknowledged he went overboard in February 2012, when he gloated via Twitter when Braun's initial suspension was overturned. Rodgers admitted that "in hindsight, a more measured approach next time would obviously be a better course of action."

And finally, Rodgers didn't close the door on his friendship with Braun. "People make mistakes," he said. "I definitely believe in forgiveness and moving forward. Obviously, he has a tough task in front of him, moving forward with his career on and off the field."

As we discussed earlier this week, Braun's lies put hundreds of people in a terrible spot. Rodgers staked his good name on Braun's innocence and was left to answer for a defense that once appeared passionate but in hindsight looked overdone and ultimately damaging. To his credit, Rodgers didn't run from the issue or offer clichés. He's hurt, he knows that his tone made the situation worse for himself, yet he didn't slam Braun personally. Now, it's time to move on.

BBAO: Lions and their WR depth

July, 23, 2013
We're Black and Blue All Over:

Good mid-morning. I got fired up and posted early Tuesday morning on the vehement defense that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers once offered for now-disgraced Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, but I'm told there are three other teams in the NFC North that merit daily coverage as well.

So we'll begin (again) today with news that the Detroit Lions are continuing to acknowledge their lack of depth at receiver, a topic we've discussed in several SportsNation chats and in two separate posts last week. Via Jason La Canfora of and others, the Lions have scheduled three veteran receivers for workouts this week: Laurent Robinson, Steve Breaston and Chaz Schilens. Robinson, who apparently has been cleared after suffering multiple concussions last season, worked out Monday for the New York Jets.

Once again, the fact is the Lions are thin at receiver behind Calvin Johnson. Nate Burleson has recovered from a broken leg that ended his 2012 season, but he will turn 32 in August and has played all 16 games of a season only once since 2007. Ryan Broyles is recovering from his second torn ACL in as many years, and Mike Thomas is entering his first full season with the team after arriving last year via trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Lions pursued free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey in free agency and it's clear they recognize this need hasn't gone away. We'll see if they believe it is acute enough to bring in a veteran off the street on the eve of training camp.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Undrafted rookie Steven Miller will get the first chance to win the Lions' return job when training camp opens Friday. More from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Indeed, the Lions made wholesale changes to their special teams this offseason, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News.
  • Justin Rogers of looks at the Lions' competition at cornerback opposite veteran Chris Houston.
  • Receiver Randall Cobb is the fourth-most important player on the Packers' roster, according to Jason Wilde of
  • Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wonders if the Packers' defensive line will be broken up for salary-cap reasons after this season. McGinn: "Big men Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly all have contracts expiring at season's end, and pass rusher Mike Neal will become an unrestricted free agent in March as well. Mindful of upheaval ahead, general manager Ted Thompson prepared by selecting defensive ends Jerel Worthy, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones and Josh Boyd in the first five rounds of the past two drafts. For now, however, it's steady as she goes."
  • Jones should give the Packers an added dimension, writes Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • Wilde on Rodgers' predicament: "We have all, to varying degrees, had friends let us down. Some of us have been the ones who let their friends down. Such moments can end friendships or, in some cases, lead to relationship growth. It’s all in how those friends handle the aftermath."
  • The Minnesota Vikings will report to training camp as a playoff team with much higher expectations than last season, writes Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune.
  • Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder will play well enough to eliminate any chance that tailback Adrian Peterson might have of rushing for 2,500 yards this season, according to Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Jeff Dickerson of on the Chicago Bears' defense: "Are there still questions about the defense? Sure. But if the veteran leaders can find a way to keep themselves on the field and if the Bears can locate a consistent pass rush up front to complement Peppers, then new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker should be able to keep the Bears' defense among the NFL's elite."
  • Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune doesn't see the Bears making a quick run at re-signing quarterback Jay Cutler during the season. Pompei: "My read is it will take more than four to five games for Cutler to prove he is worthy of being paid like one of the best quarterbacks in the game -- which is likely what it would take to sign him. "
  • Former Denver Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist on Cutler and the Bears, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times: "It just didn’t seem like under Lovie [Smith] that the emphasis was there to get [Cutler] the things that he needed to succeed. And that's just me and that may not be fair. Maybe they were trying to do everything they could. But at least this year, from the outside looking in, [Cutler] is the focal point. From that perspective, I applaud the Bears because I think that's what you have to do."

When Major League Baseball announced Ryan Braun's season-ending suspension Monday, the first person I thought of was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. It was Rodgers, after all, who in December 2011 offered a credible and passionate defense of the person he called his "best athlete friend" after ESPN and other media outlets connected Braun to performance-enhancing drugs.

Rodgers, of course, didn't just offer his support. He said on an ESPN 540 radio show that he trusted that Braun "has not been using anything that's illegal" and added, "I'm very confident that that is the case."

And when an arbitrator overturned Braun's 50-game suspension in February 2012, citing irregularities in the collection of his urine sample, Rodgers jumped into overdrive. He didn't just rejoice. He crowed, rubbed it in the face of those who were presumably wrong and, for one of the rare times in his public life, he gloated.

He was so certain, in fact, that when a Twitter follower then asked whether Rodgers really believed Braun was clean, Rodgers responded that he would "put up my salary" on his conviction.

Read the tweets below to get a sense of Rodgers' glee at the time. He wasn't just glad that Braun's reputation appeared restored. He was thrilled that Braun's accusers looked bad. If I didn't see that familiar @AaronRodgers12 handle, I would have bet my salary -- which falls just short of the $8.5 million Rodgers earned in 2012 -- that it was someone else.
Rodgers has made news in his career with strong and/or controversial statements, but he has always taken great care to frame his public communication in a civilized and clinical manner. I've called him out for one relatively misguided outburst, but generally speaking, you won't find someone who puts more thought into what he says in public than Rodgers.

I tweeted on the Braun-Rodgers connection in the moments after Monday's announcement and was met with a pretty fierce pushback from Packers/Rodgers/non-baseball fans. @dnjpond tweeted that inserting Rodgers to the Braun story added nothing but "innuendo and agitation." @mcflan5 suggested it is nothing more than that, "Aaron was clearly defending a friend." @stevekass2 wanted me to "stick to football" and stop with the "wild leaps of assumption."

Here's why this is relevant: One of the NFL's top players is on record vehemently defending a now-admitted fraud -- one who happens to be one of baseball's top players -- and gloating over a temporary exoneration that now has no credibility.

The question from here is whether Rodgers has any public responsibility moving forward. Should we all just accept that he was ensnared and duped by a pathological liar posing as a friend? And even if that's the case, does Rodgers still have an obligation to speak as vigorously in acceptance of the new set of facts as he did against the previous ones?

My feeling is that Rodgers is one of hundreds of people whom Braun has put in an impossible spot, a list that includes everyone associated with the Milwaukee Brewers along with his family and friends. Rodgers is now in the same position as friends of Lance Armstrong were: seeking to find a balance between anger, loyalty and embarrassment.

He will be damned if he sits on his original statements, implying he still supports Braun's innocence. On the other hand, he is left with condemning a now-disgraced friend and, in the process, revealing a level of personal pain that he usually avoids. Many of us would like to think we would choose the latter strategy, but sometimes that is easier said than done.

One conclusion I hope we can all agree on is that Rodgers completely and totally believed Braun was innocent. The alternative is too dark and out of character to believe. If Rodgers had actually lied on Braun's behalf, the smart strategy would have been to lie low after the original suspension was overturned. In a weird way, Rodgers' enthusiasm upon hearing that news is the best evidence that he wasn't complicit in the fraud.

So in all likelihood, Rodgers was stung by this news as much as any Brewers fan or Braun family member. Not only did he apparently believe Braun, he also staked his good name -- not to mention his salary -- on it. He is in a terrible spot, partly of his own doing, but in the end, his actions were rooted in loyalty and friendship. Yikes. Some days just make you want to be a hermit.

Aaron Rodgers celebrates Braun ruling

February, 23, 2012
INDIANAPOLIS -- In December, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers issued a passionate defense of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, a close friend whom Major League Baseball had suspended 50 games for violating the game's substance-abuse policy. So when Braun won his appeal of the suspension Thursday, Rodgers vented via Twitter.

A sampling:
"MLB and cable sports tried to sully the reputation of an innocent man. Picked the wrong guy to mess with. Truth will set u free #exonerated"

"When its guilty until proven innocent, all u need are the facts. #howsthecrowmlb #exonerated"

The public portion of this story began in December when ESPN reported Braun's positive test. Rodgers implied he knew the full story during his initial defense in December, saying: "I am 100 percent supporting him and am behind him and believing everything that he says."

Responding Thursday to followers who suggested Braun was exonerated on a technicality, Rodgers tweeted: "I'll let my buddy take it from here. All u idiots talking about technicality open up for some crow too. See if Espn gets pressured not to let the people hear the truth. Should get interesting. #exonerated #shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"

I don't want to wade into this issue on a football blog other than to say that this episode is fair warning for anyone who goes after one of Aaron Rodgers' friends. Yeesh.
Depending on who you talk to, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the favorite to win the NFL's 2011 MVP award. As it turns out, Rodgers is close friends with the reigning MVP of baseball's National League. And so on Tuesday, it was interesting to hear his reaction to the potential 50-game suspension of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun.

Speaking on his ESPN 540 radio show, Rodgers said that Braun is "probably my best athlete friend." Rodgers added: "I am 100 percent supporting him and am behind him and believing everything that he says."

ESPN's Outside the Lines reported over the weekend that Braun had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug and will be suspended unless he overturns the results via appeal. A Braun spokesman said there are "highly unusual circumstances" surrounding the positive test and Braun told USA Today that it the ruling is "B.S."

"I just would say that I would 100 percent support Ryan and believe in him and it's not going to affect our friendship," Rodgers said. "… I am just trusting that my good friend has not been using anything that's illegal and I'm very confident that that is the case. I know how he cares about the integrity of the game and wouldn't do anything to jeopardize that."

If he had any concerns about Braun, Rodgers could have easily declined comment under the cover of an ongoing process. His uncouched support should count for something.