EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — One thing Greg Jennings did during his two-day visit with the Minnesota Vikings was watch a lot of film on the team that was offering him a big contract as an unrestricted free agent.
The two-time Pro Bowl receiver knows Minnesota well from playing in the NFC North for the Green Bay Packers. He knows all about MVP running back Adrian Peterson and is looking forward to playing with the league’s best running back, drooling over the thought of defenses crowding the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson. He knows the defense — including the likes of Pro Bowl end Jared Allen, who was part of the recruiting contingent that took Jennings to dinner Thursday night. But Jennings had his eye on something specific while watching Minnesota on film — quarterback Christian Ponder.
In his career, Jennings has been blessed with the opportunity to play with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, who sure seems on his way to the same lofty status. In his two seasons in the NFL, no one has confused Ponder with Favre, Rodgers or any Hall of Famer.
Jennings seemed to acknowledge that he needed to know he was going somewhere he could thrive, with a quarterback who could get him the ball.
“I would lie to you if I said it was watching the team,” Jennings said late Friday after agreeing to sign a five-year deal with the Vikings. “It was more I had to watch Christian. I had to see what I was getting myself into.”
Jennings has apparently sold himself on Ponder’s potential. Or at least the reported five-year, $47.5 million contract with $18 million guaranteed helped overcome any of Ponder’s shortcomings. Ponder needed a quality, experienced veteran to assist in his development. Jennings will need Ponder’s growth to prove he still has life in his game after leaving Green Bay and earning the second-richest deal for a receiver in free agency this week.
“Very athletic quarterback; obviously his upside, his future is bright,” Jennings said. “And again, I saw a young guy who was maturing. Obviously, he’s had success. Can he have more success? Absolutely. But how much success he’s going to have is going to be completely up to him and what he’s willing to put in and the guys that are going to help. I haven’t had all the success that I’ve had alone. It’s been because of guys like Brett and Aaron. And the James Joneses, Jordy Nelsons of the world that have been able to take some weight and that pressure off myself. So we’re helpers one unto another. We help each other be successful. We help each other grow. We help each other thrive.”
That’s just what the Vikings are hoping for. Ponder and Jennings are now linked, and they need each other. They need to develop the chemistry between quarterback and receiver that has existed for the league’s best pass-and-catch combos; that once existed between Jennings and Favre and Jennings and Rodgers.
Jennings’ time in Green Bay, even though the Packers were reportedly interested in having him return, had run its course. Injuries the past two seasons and the emergence of Jones, Nelson and Randall Cobb made Jennings just another piece in the Green Bay arsenal, not the clear No. 1 receiver he once was.
Limited to a career-low eight games for the Packers last year because of an abdominal injury, he finished with only 36 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns. Jennings said he’s over the injury and he passed a physical with the Vikings on Friday. He insisted he can “still do it” and still “be as exciting as I was in my earlier years.” He stressed that he’s not old and that he won’t turn 30 until after next season starts.
Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman introduced Jennings as a “star receiver” on Friday.
Spielman, Ponder and the Vikings have to hope Jennings is a star receiver and not a product of the brilliance of Favre and Rodgers. Spielman is banking on it — and he’s banking that Ponder will benefit.
“I think that’s the biggest thing when you have a receiver with his experience and with his skill set, what we can share back with Christian,” Spielman said.
Jennings has to hope his experience can help Ponder. He said Friday that he wanted a change. He got one.