Why the Green Bay Packers Are Completely Comfortable Letting Greg Jennings Walk
Jennings, 29, has appeared in 96 games in seven seasons with the Packers, helping the team win Super Bowl XLV and twice being named to the Pro Bowl. He was the 52nd overall pick in the 2006 NFL draft and has been a starter ever since his rookie season.
But Jennings has missed 11 regular-season games the past two years, and the Packers appear to be content with letting the veteran receiver walk as a free agent.
Green Bay got a preview of life after Jennings last season when he missed eight games with an injury to his groin and lower abdomen. Second-year wideout Randall Cobb led the team with 80 catches for 954 receiving yards, while James Jones enjoyed a breakout year in which he led the NFL with 14 touchdown catches.
Cobb, Jones and Jordy Nelson are all under contract for 2013, as is field-stretching tight end Jermichael Finley.
Finley's future in Green Bay has been called into question. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote in December that the Packers appeared to be finished with Finley. Yet ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde suggested it's nearly impossible to think the team would part ways with the 25-year-old tight end.
Assuming the Packers decide to keep Finley in the fold, they'd have four core receiving threats returning next season. Jennings is reportedly seeking a contract worth $12 million per year, and the Packers will surely not be the team that matches those financial demands.
Green Bay will reportedly give quarterback Aaron Rodgers a lucrative contract extension soon, surpassing that of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The Packers also must extend the contracts of Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji, whose contracts expire after the 2013 season.
Financially, bringing Jennings back isn't feasible for the Packers at his current asking price.
And schematically, bringing Jennings back would have flooded the team's receiving corps. The Packers would have four starting-caliber wideouts and an athletic tight end, but only one football to be dispersed among them.
Prior to 2012, the Packers would have had Jennings at the top of the pecking order, willing to divide snaps among their other capable pass-catchers. But that may not be the case anymore.
Jones deserves, and will be expected to step into, a prominent role in the Packers offense following the best season of his six-year career. Cobb will once again be the team's primary slot receiver as the most explosive home-run threat on the roster. Nelson missed four games in 2012 but was one of the best receivers in football in 2011, totaling 1,263 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
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General manager Ted Thompson's track record in drafting receivers speaks for itself. Thompson has struck gold finding Jennings, Nelson and Cobb in the second round and landing Jones in Round 3.
Wide receiver is one of the deepest positions in the first few rounds of this year's draft. The Packers could be in the market for a wideout at the end of the second or third round.
Perhaps a guy like Markus Wheaton of Oregon State could catch the Packers' attention in Round 2 as a potential replacement for Jennings. Wheaton, like Jennings, measured 5'11" at the NFL Scouting Combine and clocked a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash, slightly slower than Jennings' 4.42.
Wheaton also has the ability to create yards after the catch, which is a category in which the Packers receivers have been among the league's best in recent years. Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel suggests that Wheaton fits the team's mold at the receiver position.
If the Packers find a receiver that can be groomed into a future NFL starter, they won't hesitate to pull the trigger at some point early in the draft. Jones' contract is set to expire after this season, and Nelson's after 2014.
But letting Jennings go was far from a surprise. The team could have explored a tag-and-trade option with Jennings. Had there not been an acceptable offer on the table, the Packers would have been forced to pay the soon-to-be 30-year-old $10.5 million this year.
Jennings was a great find in Round 2 of the 2006 NFL draft, and he certainly left his imprint on the Packers faithful. But the NFL is a business, and the Packers are prepared to continue their winning ways without their No. 1 receiver.
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