ESPN is distancing itself from Aaron Rodgers' recent comments about Jimmy Kimmel ... chalking his controversial appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" up to a bad attempt at comedy.
The New York Jets quarterback sparked an intense feud with the ABC late-night host earlier this week ... when he suggested Kimmel could be among the famous names on Jeffrey Epstein's client list.
Kimmel was furious with Rodgers ... firing back by claiming the comments could put his family in danger -- and threatening to take legal action if he continued to bark up that tree.
Mike Foss -- ESPN's senior vice president of digital and studio production -- addressed the whole issue in an interview with Front Office Sports on Friday ... and he said the comments never should have came out of Rodgers' mouth.
"Pat announced today that he’s planning on Aaron joining the show Tuesday," Foss told the outlet. "Aaron made a dumb and factually inaccurate joke about Jimmy Kimmel."
"The show will continue to evolve. It wouldn’t surprise me if Aaron’s role evolves with it."
Based on the latter part of that statement, it certainly sounds like the network won't step in and prevent Rodgers from going back on the show ... but on Friday's show, Pat accused ESPN exec Norby Williamson of sabotaging his program amid the drama.
Pat McAfee just called one of his ESPN bosses, Norby Williamson, a rat on air and said he was actively sabotaging the show. Get your popcorn! No doubt this is true, btw. Definitely some in ESPN attacking PM from inside: pic.twitter.com/TmztKuX4A5