Greg Jennings had his chance. Quietly, according to an NFL source, the Green Bay Packers had twice offered him deals worth more than $10 million per year, both in the summer and in the fall. Both times, the Packers’ No. 1 wide receiver had said thanks, but no thanks.
So when the Minnesota Vikings showed him the money on Friday – less money than was on the table from the Packers then, but more than they were offering now, according to an NFL source – Jennings took it.
According to multiple reports, Jennings’ new five-year deal with the Vikings will be worth a maximum of $47.5 million. It includes $18 million in guaranteed money and is worth $27 million over the first three seasons – the same amount Jennings made as part of the three-year extension with the Packers that just expired, making him a free agent.
“Hey, Minnesota stepped up to the plate,” Jennings said during a news conference at the Vikings’ headquarters in Winter Park, outside Minneapolis. “They showed me and my family that they wanted the Jennings family to be a part of what they were doing as an organization. And that’s why I’m standing here.”
At least, that’s one reason. The other, Jennings hinted, was that he simply was ready to move on from the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
From the start of training camp last year, Jennings had talked as if he was convinced he was playing his final season in Green Bay. He never really wavered on that position, even as he packed up his belongings after the season-ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He and his wife, Nicole, put their DePere home up for sale in January, too.
On Friday night, Jennings made it very clear that he had a hard time with how his role changed last season, after a torn lower abdominal muscle sidelined him for eight games and the team’s other pass-catchers – Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley – got many of his targets.
With the Vikings, who traded leading receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle last week for the Seahawks’ first-round pick plus other picks, Jennings will be the team’s clear-cut No. 1. After cutting Michael Jenkins, the Vikings’ other receivers are Jerome Simpson, Stephen Burton and Jarius Wright.
"I was looking for change,” Jennings said “Green Bay, I gave them seven good years. They were seven great years for myself. I had a lot of success. We were able to win. It was great.
“At the same time, (the Packers have) a lot of young talent. The injury kind of hurt me last year and getting shuffled around a little bit. As a competitor, and as someone who wants to be on the field all the time and feels like he can still do it … I can definitely still do it. I can definitely still make plays and be as exciting as I was in my earlier years.”
Then, Jennings added, “And I'm not old. I'm 29. I’m not old. Let me throw that out there. I am 29 years old.”
Jennings admitted that it came down to only the Packers and Vikings, and that he didn’t generate interest from any other teams. Returning to Green Bay, even had the Packers offered him the exact same financial package, would have required him to swallow his pride and once again be part of a share-the-wealth offense will all of those other aforementioned receivers still in the mix. It’s a virtual lock that Finley will now return with his $8.75 million salary-cap charge.
Two years ago, Jones hit the open market and after getting lukewarm interest from the Vikings, he wound up coming back to Green Bay for an economical three-year, $9.6 million deal. In an interview on the NFL Network on Thursday night, he suggested that the Packers would be OK without his friend.
“We still have a lot of great weapons left in Green Bay: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Jermichael Finley and we always have our quarterback Aaron Rodgers,” Jones said. “Hopefully we don’t lose a guy like Greg [Jennings], one of the best receivers in the game. I am surprised he is not getting a lot of the attention he should be getting because he is one of the best but we will be prepared if he decides to go elsewhere.”
The Vikings were thrilled to get Jennings, with coach Leslie Frazier saying, “He’s a young man that we’ve tried to corral for a number of years as we’ve tried to defend him. … We're looking forward to great things ahead."
Jennings, meanwhile, believes the Vikings are just hitting their stride as a team. Although Green Bay beat Minnesota in the NFC Wild Card playoff round in January, the Vikings stopped the Packers’ 13-game NFC North winning streak by beating them in the Dec. 30 regular-season finale – a game in which Jennings caught eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
“From a football perspective, when you start to age and get years underneath your belt, you want to go to a team that’s still a contender, that still has an opportunity to win, but the window isn’t closing, the window is opening up. I saw that with this ballclub last year,” said Jennings, who caught a career-low 36 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns in 2012. “They kind of snuck up on everyone, including the Packers ourselves when I was over there. Now, for me to be a part of this, I’m excited to add to what they’ve already brought to the table.“
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.