GREEN BAY, Wis. — With Greg Jennings one month away from hitting unrestricted free agency, the market for the 29-year-old wide receiver will be heating up soon.
The closest comparison to help determine Jennings’ value is wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who signed a five-year, $55 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last offseason. Jackson was 29 at the time and had similar career statistics through his first seven NFL seasons as Jennings.
The biggest issue that could prevent Jennings from topping or matching Jackson’s pay day is a recent streak of injuries. When Jackson entered free agency, he was coming off a healthy season with 1,106 receiving yards. Jennings had a knee injury at the end of the 2011 season and a core muscle injury this past season that required surgery and kept him out for eight games. As a result, Jennings finished with a career-low 366 receiving yards.
With that in mind, here are the five teams most likely to land Jennings this offseason:
1. Miami Dolphins
This seems to be Jennings’ preferred destination. The Dolphins are coached by former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, so he is very familiar with Jennings. During Super Bowl week, Jennings gave a friendly, “Remember me?” to Philbin in a radio interview. Miami could use a go-to receiver to pair with its 2012 first-round draft pick, quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins have a couple of capable wide receivers in Brian Hartline and Davone Bess, but neither have the talent of a No. 1 receiver on a good team. It’s also worth noting that Jennings’ sister, Valyncia, mentioned in a series of tweets that her brother should take his talents to South Beach. Perhaps Jennings — who is from Michigan, played college football in Michigan and spent seven years in Green Bay — wouldn’t mind playing under the warm Miami sun instead of in the colder Midwest.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Jennings made it clear again this season that he likes to play in domed stadiums. That opens up the possibility for several teams, but the Vikings are the most likely among them. Like most free agents, Jennings will probably go to the team that offers the most money, but he may relish the opportunity to play against the Packers twice a year. Remember, general manager Ted Thompson didn’t offer Jennings a contract extension when the team had a chance. Like the Dolphins, Minnesota has a young quarterback (Christian Ponder) that they’d like to surround with more receiving weapons. The Vikings have Percy Harvin and an emerging tight end in Kyle Rudolph, but Ponder would really benefit from having another threat downfield. Teams will no doubt continue to focus their attention on stopping Minnesota’s running game, but an improved passing attack with Jennings would make the Vikings’ entire offense better. The window of Adrian Peterson’s prime won’t last forever, so Minnesota might look to make a free-agent splash with the hope of making it through the first round of the playoffs in 2013.
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City has its own free-agent wide receiver in Dwayne Bowe to decide on, but Jennings makes a lot of sense for the Chiefs. Former Packers director of football operations John Dorsey is now the general manager in Kansas City. Dorsey’s familiarity with Jennings will make it easy for the lines of communication to be open should there be mutual interest. With Andy Reid now the Chiefs’ head coach, Jennings would give a boost to an offense that sorely needs it. Reid, an offensive-minded coach, would certainly like to make his mark on a passing offense that was the worst in the NFL in 2012. Adding Jennings would help improve that. However, does Jennings have interest in going to a team without a set quarterback in place? Perhaps Jennings could reunite with former Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn in Kansas City next season.
4. Green Bay Packers
Yes, Jennings could be back with the Packers for several reasons. Though Jennings has spoken publicly about not wanting the franchise tag, it’s not up to him. Thompson could choose to use the franchise tag on Jennings and get one more year out of the team’s 2006 second-round pick. It’d be a steep price, near the $10 million range for the 2013 season, but depending on Thompson’s vision at wide receiver, it is an option. The other possibility is that there isn’t as big of a market for Jennings as he hopes and Green Bay ends up getting him back on a cheap, short-term deal. Thompson will never shy away from a bargain-value player. However, it might be easier for Jennings to accept a lesser contract from another team rather than from the Packers. Green Bay offers the real possibility of another Super Bowl ring for Jennings, which many other potential suitors don’t.
5. Other (Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets)
The first four teams on the list are clearly the four most likely destinations for Jennings. But, sleeper teams that weren’t necessarily expected to make a free-agent pitch can often emerge during negotiations and reel in a player. The Seahawks, with former Packers executive John Schneider as general manager, need a wide receiver. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are not quite good enough to be No. 1 receiving threats, so young quarterback Russell Wilson would benefit from being able to throw to Jennings. The Raiders, under the direction of former Packers executive Reggie McKenzie, need a lot of help, but their top receiver in 2012 was tight end Brandon Myers. Considering the former Raiders regime traded a first-round and second-round pick to acquire quarterback Carson Palmer, adding a receiver like Jennings makes sense. The Jets need serious help at wide receiver, but it’s difficult to tell which direction they’re heading right now. Being in New York, though, would likely increase Jennings’ commercial and entertainment opportunities, which is something that he is interested in.