I love Greg Jennings. If he’s leaving Green Bay — which seems more and more like a forgone conclusion — I’ll hate to see him go. I’d really hate to see him on in a Bears or Vikings uniform. But, even if it’s one of those teams offering the most money, he should take it. This is probably be his last chance at a big contract. He should definitely go get paid right now.
Jennings has been nothing short of a model citizen on and off the field during his seven years in Green Bay. During that time, he caught 425 balls for 6,537 yards and 53 touchdowns during the regular season. In his 10 playoff games, he had 50 receptions for 673 yards and six touchdowns. Whether or not he remains with the team, his signature game and green and gold will likely be his performance in Super Bowl XLV. That night, he caught two touchdowns, including this one which is one of the best throw-and-catches I’ve ever seen. I have no idea how Aaron Rodgers got this ball in here or how Greg Jennings held on:
Late in the game, Jennings would have another huge catch. With just a little under six minutes to go, the Steelers were trailing 28-25, but had all the momentum. (Green Bay had previously led 21-3 and 28-17.) Facing 3rd-and-10 on their own 25, the Packers converted a massive first down when Rodgers connected with Jennings on a perfect ball over the middle for 31 yards. This play is 8:30 into these full-game highlights:
There’s obviously no way to know, but I really think the Packers lose that game if they don’t make that play. For it and countless others, Jennings will always occupy positive space in my memory.
Unfortunately, our relationships with our favorite players are always finite. By nature of the fact that Ted Thompson and his front office have not negotiated a contract with Jennings when they usually do so before players become free agents, you get the distinct sense that they feel it’s time for both sides to move on. From Green Bay’s perspective, this makes sense. Randall Cobb’s emergence in the slot and James Jones’ as a red zone target make Jennings comparatively expendable. The team must break the bank to re-sign Clay Matthews, BJ Raji, and Aaron Rodgers. (Matthews and Raji have one year left on their deals. Rodgers has two years left, but it may make sense to get an extension done sooner because he’s currently signed at a relative discount and may demand less on the back end if it gets done earlier.)
Perhaps the market will value Jennings for less than he feels he is worth. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel caught up with an NFC scout yesterday:
[The scout] doesn’t see Jennings signing the five-year, $55.5 million deal Vincent Jackson did with Tampa Bay last off-season, saying he no longer categorizes Jennings as an “elite” receiver.
“I put Vincent Jackson last year up in the elite spectrum, a Pro Bowl-caliber player,” the scout said. “He’s also 6-5 and still can do a lot more things. Greg can’t compete with Vincent right now. I’d say the market is going to be much smaller than that.”
If this is the case, maybe the Packers can get him on a short-term deal. Here, Jennings would seek to prove he can stay healthy and productive after a season in which a nagging groin injury kept him out of eight games and caused his production to decline until the last month of the season. But, if someone offers Jennings a big deal on the basis of this last month, his previous seasons, and the fact that he is still on the right side of 30 (though at 29 that’s not the case for long), he should absolutely take it. He put it best himself. Again via Tyler Dunne:
“At the end of the day, you know the Packers are going to do what’s best for the Packers,” Jennings said. “And that’s not going to change whether you’re No. 4, No. 80, No. 85, No. 77. [Favre, Driver, himself, and Cullen Jenkins]. That’s going to be the case. They’re going to do what’s best for the Packers and the organization. And as the other half of the businessmen sitting down at that table, I have to do what’s best for myself and my family.”
Think about that last sentence closely. We know that football players make a lot of money — Jennings himself is finishing a contract that paid him almost $27 million over four years. While it’s a lot more than you or I make, this money needs to last him the rest of his life. He and his wife Nicole have three daughters under the age of five. They need to be fed, clothed, insured, sheltered, and entertained–and that’s before college. All the while, the couple must provide for themselves until the end of their lives–in sickness and in health. While Jennings’ income will certainly exceed zero, it’s highly unlikely that his earning power will be anywhere near as great when his playing career ends. He has every right to maximize his earnings today.
When you read a story like Dan LeBatard’s Miami Herald profile of Jason Taylor, you further understand why these athletes would be foolish to play at a discount. You get a glimpse of the anguish that these players go through in the 165 hours per week that they’re not playing football during the season:
Taylor was leg-whipped during a game once in Washington. Happens all the time. Common. He was sore and had a bruise, but the pregame Toradol and the postgame pain medicine and prescribed sleeping pills masked the suffering, so he went to dinner and thought he was fine. Until he couldn’t sleep. And the medication wore off. It was 2 a.m. He noticed that the only time his calf didn’t hurt is when he was walking around his house or standing. So he found a spot that gave him relief on a staircase and fell asleep standing up, leaning against the wall. But as soon as his leg would relax from the sleep, the pain would wake him up again. He called the team trainer and asked if he could take another Vicodin. The trainer said absolutely not. This need to kill the pain is what former No. 1 pick Keith McCants says started a pain-killer addiction that turned to street drugs when the money ran out … and led him to try to hang himself to break the cycle of pain.
The trainer rushed to Taylor’s house. Taylor thought he was overreacting. The trainer told him they were immediately going to the hospital. A test kit came out. Taylor’s blood pressure was so high that the doctors thought the test kit was faulty. Another test. Same crazy numbers. Doctors demanded immediate surgery. Taylor said absolutely not, that he wanted to call his wife and his agent and the famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Andrews also recommended surgery, and fast. Taylor said, fine, he’d fly out in owner Daniel Snyder’s private jet in the morning. Andrews said that was fine but that he’d have to cut off Taylor’s leg upon arrival. Taylor thought he was joking. Andrews wasn’t. Compartment syndrome. Muscle bleeds into the cavity, causing nerve damage. Two more hours, and Taylor would have had one fewer leg. Fans later sent him supportive notes about their own compartment syndrome, many of them in wheelchairs.
While wide receivers like Jennings do not suffer quite as much punishment as linebackers like Taylor, it’s not as though they’re playing golf either. This shit is brutal and no amount of new player safety protocol can ever truly change that. A legitimate argument could be made that NFL players are underpaid.
I will forever love Greg Jennings for what he and the Packers have accomplished during his tenure. He doesn’t owe us anything beyond what he’s already given–seven years of exemplary citizenship, effort, and performance. He should absolutely do what’s in the best interest of himself and his family.