When Bob McGinn suggested the Green Bay Packers should trade wide receiver Greg Jennings this year, many fans thought he was nuts despite being one of the most respected voices on the Packers beat.
The thinking of many fans, bloggers and beat writers alike was along the lines of, “receivers like Jennings don’t come around very often. Ted would be nuts to let him walk.”
It’s a very easy argument to understand. Jennings and Aaron Rodgers share a unique chemistry and that’s not something Thompson can replace with draft pick, even a first round selection. He’s also one of the most beloved players on the team by the fans so naturally they refuse to consider the idea of Jennings in any other colors than green and yellow.
That said, one must consider the reality of the situation. Rodgers himself admitted it’s a very real possibility Jennings won’t be back in 2013. Plus the Packers are faced with signing Jennings, Rodgers, Clay Matthews and BJ Raji in the next few years. Jordy Nelson also will need a new contract thanks to his stellar play. It’s very possible one of them will be a casualty of simple math as the Packers try to stay a reasonable amount under the salary cap.
Unbelievably, that casualty very well could be Jennings.
Before the season began, many would have selected Raji out of those players to most likely be the one who is not brought back. It made sense, given Raji’s lackluster performance (along with the rest of the defense) last season. The Packers were and still are incredibly deep at wide receiver but thanks to how Mike McCarthy likes to run a multiple offense, it seemed like Jennings was a near-lock to be brought back.
Two games into 2012 however, the situation has taken a strange turn.
After getting burned by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1, the Packers defense roared to live against Jay Cutler and the now supposedly explosive Chicago Bears offense. In the 23-10 victory, the Packers sacked Cutler seven times, intercepted him four times and potentially may have sent the Bears into a season long tailspin.
Two of the key players in the defensive resurgence? Matthews and Raji.
Thompson’s dynamic duo from the 2009 draft is at it again. The two were a force to be reckoned with in 2010 as the Packers marched their way to the Super Bowl XLV title. Matthews was a sack machine and Raji found ways to get to the quarterback. The Freezer also made a play for the ages with his pick six of Caleb Hanie against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game.
Last season, both experienced a drop in performance. Matthews faced constant double teams thanks to no other legitimate pass rush threat on defense and Raji just plain stunk. The Packers defense as a whole struggled throughout 2011 and eventually was the team’s Achilles heel in a 15-1 season when the Packers lost to the New York Giants in the divisional round of the playoffs.
With two games of the 2012 regular season in the books, it appears Matthews and Raji have both returned to 2010 form. Matthews has six sacks, which matches his total from all 16 regular season games last year, and Raji has been able to get close holes along the front line. As Adam Czech mentioned here recently, Pro Football Focus has given Raji an overall 2.7 and a 2.0 against the run versus the Bears. Matthews’ performance against Chicago speaks for itself.
If the two can maintain their current level of performance, Ted Thompson is going to be in a bit of a jam. It’s pretty much certain Rodgers will remain with the Packers and Matthews isn’t too far behind. Nelson will get his much deserved pay raise, so that leaves Raji and Jennings as the last two remaining “big names” Thompson will have to sign to contract extensions or new contracts.
Earlier this was considered a no-brainer. But thanks to Jennings suddenly having trouble remaining healthy as well as Raji’s improved play, Thompson will likely have to consider letting the wide receiver walk in free agency.
For all of Jennings’ abilities and as much as he is touted as a rare talent, he would be a much easier player to replace than someone who plays on the defensive line like Raji. The Packers under Thompson have proven adept at finding wide receiver talent in all corners of the NFL draft. Nelson, Jennings and Randall Cobb all were drafted in the second round by Thompson. Unlike many positions, the drop-off in talent at the wide receiver position is not that steep. Thompson easily could find another receiver and with a quarterback like Rodgers, the Packers offense very likely would not miss a beat.
Last season with the Packers’ offense under McCarthy at their peak explosiveness, Jennings’ receiving yardage went below 1,000 yards for the first time since 2007. Thanks to the emergence of Nelson, Jennings was no longer the only stud receiver on the Packers roster. With McCarthy running a multiple-style offense and a quarterback that loves to spread the ball around, Jennings show his numbers drop despite the Packers offense increasing its performance in almost all areas of the passing game, most noticeably putting up a franchise-record point total.
When you take that and combine with the odd media tour Jennings did during camp to publicly talk about his contract scenario, and you have a divorce building. Jennings was not being the prima donna Sterling Sharpe was being in the early 1990s, but the Packers prefer to keep contract situations behind closed doors so it’s safe to say Thompson was none too thrilled about Jennings going public the way he did.
Jennings has long been a fan favorite in Green Bay. From his dedicated charity work to his popular #BeGreat Twitter slogans, Jennings has been first class to his fans. That’s likely why so many are having trouble wrapping their heads around the idea of letting him go.
Will Thompson trade Jennings before the deadline? I have no idea. But crazier things have happened in the NFL.
Thompson excels at making the tough decisions that come with his job. This arguably will be the toughest since he decided to trade Brett Favre to the Jets in 2008.
That decision has worked out fairly well. Packer fans hope whatever he does with Jennings proves to be the right call as well.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke