Packers were right to let Jennings go

March 15, 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was time. Greg Jennings and the Green Bay Packers had to go their separate ways. Two prideful, strong-willed parties wanted different things and neither was willing to cave. Ultimately, this was a relationship that needed to be dissolved for multiple reasons.

Jennings wants to be a star, both on and off the field. Last offseason, he got that chance through a series of well-directed, comedic commercials, most notably for Old Spice. During recent years, however, he had become a role player – not a star -- in Green Bay's offense. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets most of the attention, and deservedly so. Clay Matthews' long hair and sack dances are spotlighted on defense.

Meanwhile, Jennings hasn't even been the most notable player -- at least from a statistical perspective -- among the Packers' wide receivers since 2010.

Minnesota, which grabbed Jennings with a reported five-year, $47.5 million contract Friday night, is a perfect spot for Jennings. After the Vikings traded Percy Harvin earlier in the week, naming a wide receiver on Minnesota's roster was not an easy task. Not even for the Vikings' own players, with defensive tackle Kevin Williams admitting as much in an interview with a SiriusXM NFL Radio show. Williams certainly knows who Jennings is.

As a two-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time Super Bowl champion, Jennings immediately takes over as Minnesota's clear-cut No. 1 wide receiver, no questions asked. That's what Jennings wants. A chance to prove he's still the man. He wants to prove he's not too old, at 29, to be one of the NFL's best wide receivers.

Signing with the Vikings also means playing the Packers twice a year. As Jennings admitted in his introductory press conference in Minnesota, those games against Green Bay will be his two most meaningful of the season. They'll offer Jennings a chance to get back at the team that he feels undervalued him.

The Packers let Jennings become a free agent and didn't seem to have much concern when he visited Minnesota. As has been the case since general manager Ted Thompson took over in Green Bay, the Packers aren't going to overpay any player, particularly one who arguably was the third- or fourth-best receiver on the team in 2012.

For NFL players, money equals respect. Joe Flacco was the latest to publicly admit that when the Baltimore Ravens made him the highest-paid quarterback ever.

The Vikings offered Jennings respect in the form of contract length and big money that included a reported $18 million guaranteed. Smartly, Green Bay was never going to consider a contract of that length for a receiver of Jennings' age, especially when the Packers are still loaded at receiver with Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones.

When contract negotiations between the two sides went nowhere leading up to the 2012 season, Jennings began to speak as though that was going to be it for him and Green Bay. By the end of the season, it was abundantly clear the good feelings Jennings once had for the organization that drafted him had soured. He had a foot and a half out the door as the season wound down, but when he cleaned out his locker following the Packers' postseason loss, he wasn't saddened whatsoever about the idea of leaving Green Bay for what he hoped would be greener pastures in another NFL city.

There are, though, flaws with Jennings' strategy. He has caught passes only from Rodgers and Brett Favre. All that Jennings has ever known in the NFL is what it's like to run routes for two future Hall of Famers, two of the best quarterbacks in league history. Minnesota's Christian Ponder is nowhere close to that level. Ponder is the type of quarterback who, when the Vikings signed Matt Cassel, had to be defended by the team as someone whose job would not be challenged. It will be an eye-opening experience for Jennings once he sees what it's like to work with a quarterback like that. It will help Jennings to work on offense with a star running back like Adrian Peterson, but if Ponder can't get him the ball accurately on a consistent basis like Rodgers and Favre once did, he won't be the offensive focal point he seemingly left Green Bay to become.

Jennings has also been injury-prone in recent years. A knee injury late in the 2011 season was followed by a significant concussion in training camp and soon after by a core muscle injury that kept Jennings out for eight games in 2012.

The Vikings had to take a risk on a player with that questionable recent history. Without Jennings, they had no one of value at wide receiver. The Packers, on the other hand, had no reason to show Jennings the money and were wise to avoid any possible temptation to do so.

Jennings can now find out what his value to a team truly is. He doesn't have to be asked whether he's simply a product of playing with great quarterbacks in a great offensive system and alongside other quality receivers.

It might work for Jennings in Minnesota and it might not, but it wasn't going to work for him any longer in Green Bay. The Packers recognized that and let him leave for a division rival. The fact Green Bay didn't put up a fight to keep him is the final piece of evidence that showed the seven-year relationship between Jennings and the Packers had run its course.

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