Former Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings played his first seven seasons for the Packers and was an integral part of the team’s rise to their latest Super Bowl championship in 2011. After the 2012 season, Jennings became an unrestricted free agent and signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
Packers General Manager Ted Thompson had to consider that Jennings will turn 30 this season, which is an unspoken benchmark for a skill player’s abilities to begin to erode. In 2012, Jennings missed half of the season with a core injury that required surgery and extensive rehab. Legitimately, there were questions as to what Jennings’ value and contributions would be over the next five seasons or so.
Thompson decided that his biggest priority was to work on extending the contracts of quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews and offered Jennings considerably less than Jennings was seeking. It’s hard to argue that decision and the long-term contributions that both Rodgers and Matthews, if healthy, can provide the team. It seemed all but certain that Jennings would be leaving to play elsewhere. When free agency started, Jennings had stated that he was looking for a long-term deal in the neighborhood of $5-$7 million per year. He received little interest and there was a real possibility that the Packers would end up being his only and best option. The Vikings then swooped in and gave Jennings a fiver year deal worth $45 million and just over $17 million guaranteed.
Shortly after he signed that contract, Jennings took out a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that thanked the team and fans for their support during his time in Green Bay. Jennings, for the most part (and aside from a rant on Twitter by his sister), was the consummate teammate while in Green Bay. However, from some of his recent comments, it would seem that Jennings is still disappointed that the Packers didn’t do more to keep him in Green Bay. Most athletes who play for their original team for a length of time come to expect the team to take care of them and let them play out their careers, on their terms. That’s just not how professional sports, and especially the NFL, work. The game has become a business and teams are constantly forced with the tough decision of letting go of a popular veteran and who has given their all to their team. Packers fans need only see “July, 2008″ to understand this concept.
Jennings raised some eyebrows yesterday during a conversation with Pioneer Press’ Bob Sansevere. Most of the focus has been on Jennings’ response when asked about playing with two potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks in that of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, and his now being paired with Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder. Here is what Jennings said:
“When you talk about comparing quarterbacks, it’s hard to compare guys. I’ll take Brett. He did it for so long. I got there in a period of time where Brett already was there (as an elite quarterback). Then the guy they have now, he sat behind Brett and he learned so much. Christian didn’t really have that opportunity. He had to jump in. The way you compare them has to be a little different. The guy they have now (Rodgers) was (essentially) a veteran rookie. It’s a little different, but Christian has tremendous upside. I think what I see now is a quarterback who’s maturing and who’s growing and wanting to learn and grow, which is huge.”
“The guy they have now” that Jennings is referring to is none other than the the highest-paid player in the NFL right now: Aaron Rodgers. By not referring to Rodgers by name, it appears as though Jennings has taken exception to a recent tongue-in-cheek response that Rodgers gave to a question about Jennings. In April and at the second annual Wisconsin Sports Awards, Rodgers was accepting an award on behalf of teammate James Jones when he was asked about his thoughts on Jennings now being a Viking. Rodgers responded with “Who?”, as if to pretend that he no longer associates with his former teammate. While it may be lighthearted banter between the two, this only adds to the perception that there is disappointment that Jennings is no longer in Green Bay.
As for his favoring of Favre over Rodgers, Jennings played the first two of his seven seasons with Favre at quarterback. Jennings clearly benefited from having a top-notch passer to help his career get started. Jennings became an immediate part of the Packers’ offense during his rookie season of 2006 and was a go-to guy for Favre during the 2007 season when the Packers reached the Conference championship. It’s fair for Jennings to give Favre the credit he deserves and after all, Favre is a lock for the Hall of Fame and arguably one of the best signal callers of all time. Still, it’s hard not to wonder if that comment doesn’t come from a place where Jennings still feels like he was cast away by the Packers.
During his five seasons with Rodgers, Jennings caught 327 passes and 38 regular-season touchdowns. Jennings had four touchdown catches in the postseason during that same time, two of which came in Super Bowl XLV. Jennings’ only championship came with Rodgers at the helm and while football is a team effort, it’s unquestioned that Rodgers was one of the biggest reasons the team reached and won a Super Bowl. Just three seasons earlier and on a frigid night at Lambeau Field, Favre’s last pass as a Packer in that NFC Championship game was a poorly-thrown interception that ended the team’s season. It was one of many that Favre had been making during critical games and that he continued to do during his last few seasons with the New York Jets and Vikings. But still, Jennings will take Brett over “the guy they have now”.
During a January interview with the Huffington Post, Jennings stated that he had a good rapport with Rodgers and that he had hoped that he would return to Green Bay. He wanted to end his career “. . with the G on my helmet”, as he said. That he’s now in a Vikings uniform means that things didn’t go as Jennings hoped and so clearly there is a level of disappointment. As I said earlier, players have a hard time dealing with some of the business decisions that teams have to make. As obvious as it was that the Packers had to draw the proverbial line in the sand with the money they could offer Jennings, he didn’t seem to agree that he shouldn’t be paid top dollar.
We all saw how the rift between Favre and the Packers divided the fan base and ultimately changed how many fans viewed both Favre and the team. Time heals all wounds and Favre himself has admitted that he should have handled things differently. I’m sure the team would as well. Things appear to be on the mend between the Packers and Favre and we will surely see the two reunited in some way and at some point soon. As for Jennings, simply stated, he’s not Favre and fans likely won’t be as forgiving of this former Packer continuing to throw jabs at his former team.
The break-up of the Packers and Jennings is another example of the harsh reality in the NFL. What is today can very easily change and become yesterday’s news in a flash. Jennings says there is no love lost between he and the Packers. Many will eagerly be anticipating the first matchup between the Packers and Vikings in October where these exes will collide. With both sides being somewhat outspoken so far, I’m certain we have not heard the last about this tough split.——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: