After the 2010 season, Green Bay Packers wide receiver James Jones was not offered a new contract and became a free agent. Having just come off of a Super Bowl win, it was widely speculated that Jones would see some decent demand throughout the league. Jones was looking for something in the neighborhood of $5 million/year. Not a single offer came his way.
Packers GM Ted Thompson emerged and offered Jones a three year deal worth $9.4 million. Jones signed that deal and he was back in Green Bay. This past season, Jones led the NFL in touchdown catches with 14. For $3 million, that type of production was a very good return on investment when you consider that the team was without two of their top receivers in that of Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson for much of the season. You need only remember that several higher-paid receivers were not nearly as productive as Jones, and many of them also had good quarterbacks. Thompson clearly came out on top on the Jones decision.
Thompson, in his eight seasons as GM, has established a reputation for being frugal and largely absent in free agency. If you read the Twitter feeds of many Packers fans, you’d think this team hadn’t been in a playoff game in years. Sure, many of them think the Packers should sign every single free agent who comes available, age and asking price aside. But some of the frustration is understandable as the Packers rarely seem to be players in that market. After all, it’s hard to build a team strictly through the draft and undrafted free agency. One or two key free agent pieces are usually needed to get over the hump.
The Packers faced a decision during this past season as to what to do with receiver and free-agent-to-be Greg Jennings. Upon the end of the 2012 season, the Packers still had not offered Jennings an extension and allowed him to become a free agent when they did not use the franchise tag on him at that deadline. While I’m sure Thompson preferred to keep Jennings in a Packers uniform, he appeared content to let Jennings test the free agent market. He drew the proverbial line in the sand and set his limit to what he would pay to keep Jennings. Just what that dollar amount was is unknown, but as was the case with Jones, Thompson appears to be on the upside of another critical decision to let a key player test the market.
Initially, there was much division among Packers fans as to what Jennings value was to the team and whether he should be a priority to bring back. He had been a vital part of the Packers’ success each season since being drafted in 2006. He was a key piece of the team’s Super Bowl run and in the Super Bowl win itself (2 touchdown catches). But Jennings missed half of this past season with a core injury and upon his return, he was largely ineffective. He also turns 30 this upcoming season. With all of those factors considered, there was plenty to muddy the waters on just where Jennings’ market stood entering yesterday’s start of free agency.
Day one saw Miami’s Mike Wallace sign a 5-year contract worth $60 million or $12 million/year. Seattle’s Percy Harvin signed a 6-year, $67 million deal or just over $10 million/year. Things were looking up for Jennings. But Wednesday brought a changing of the tide in the receiver market. With Jennings still unsigned, the Denver Broncos acquired free agent wide receiver Wes Welker for two years and $10 million. Shortly after, the New England Patriots countered the loss of Welker with a five year, $31 million deal to Danny Amendola. Suddenly, the market for Jennings became even murkier.
Jennings was initially thought to be a day one and top-tier free agent who could be worth over $10 million/season. The idea that he would still be unsigned by the end of day two would have been considered absurd by some just days ago. Many thought Jennings may not only be the top receiver available, but the top overall free agent. Now it is apparent that is not the case.
So where does that leave Jennings in terms of value? Rumors have floated around that the Packers have offered him anywhere from $7-$10 million/year and that those offers were turned down. The Minnesota Vikings have also been rumored to have (and have apparently already lost) interest in Jennings, but not at an annual price tag of $10 million. With his age and injury history, I would put Jennings closer to Welker and Amendola’s range ($5-$6 million at most) than Wallace and Harvin.
So here we are closing in on day three of free agency and Jennings is no closer to signing his next contract than he has been since the 2012 season ended. No new teams have been rumored to be talking to Jennings and so the demand for his services appears to have peaked.
With each hour that passes, Thompson inches closer and closer to another big-stakes win at the casino that is NFL free agency. That win comes in the form of Jennings being more likely to return to Green Bay at a reasonable price. If he does, the team would still be able to keep players like Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews. The Packers then wouldn’t have to reach for and count on a rookie wide receiver to step in and contribute in a pass-heavy offense. Rodgers would also keep one of his favorite targets and the team would keep some of the continuity of the current offense. Lastly, the Packers would retain one of their seasoned veterans and a good locker room presence (sister’s tweets aside).
It’s times like this that I find myself once again saying: In Ted I trust.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: