With NFL free agency set to begin next Tuesday, there has been a lot of speculation about whom the Bears could target. One player they should avoid is Green Bay wide receiver Greg Jennings, for reasons that go beyond his price tag.
While the general perception is that the Bears wouldn't be able to afford Jennings, NFL teams have ways of finding salary cap space for players they really want. I also wouldn't pay a lot of attention to the reported salary demands ranging from $12 million—per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio—to $14 million, according to ESPN's Tom Pelissero. Ultimately it is the market—not the player or agent—that determines the cost for a free agent.
Regardless of the price tag or their cap space, if the Bears really want Jennings, they will find a way to get him.
While I like the Bears' current group of receivers, they didn't get enough production out of those not named Brandon Marshall last season.
While fans have debated about whether or not the Bears need to add a receiver, at least one expert considers it a crucial need. Six-time NFL Executive of the Year and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian listed it as one of the Bears' two biggest needs.
If Bears general manager Phil Emery agrees with Polian—and I suspect he might—the Bears could be looking for a complement to Marshall.
Jennings is a good player and probably has a few good years left in the tank. He has a lot of experience in the West Coast offense—which new coach Marc Trestman has run in the past—and won a Super Bowl with the Packers in 2010. Jennings would be desirable for a lot of reasons, but I'm not sure he's a good fit for the Bears.
Former NFL safety Matt Bowen did a story for ESPN Insider earlier this week, breaking down Jennings' skill set and potential suitors. One conclusion Bowen made was that Jennings no longer has the ability to get deep, and the numbers back him up. According to Pro Football Focus, Jennings caught just one of the eight passes thrown his way beyond 20 yards last season.
There also has to be some question about Jennings being a product of Green Bay's system.
When Mike McCarthy was the offensive coordinator in New Orleans, Joe Horn's numbers took a huge jump. Horn averaged 87.4 catches each season from 2000-04 before McCarthy left for San Francisco. In the four seasons before he played for McCarthy and the three seasons after, Horn never topped 50 receptions in a season.
At this point in his career, I see Jennings' skill set as being similar to current Bear Earl Bennett's. Bennett is a shade bigger, and Jennings may be a hair faster but both bring similar skills to the table.
Jennings has been far more productive than Bennett, but part of that is because he's played 1,073 more snaps—including the playoffs—over the last four seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. Over the last four seasons, Bennett has averaged one catch per every nine routes run, compared to Jennings' rate of one every 7.8 routes, according to Pro Football Focus.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jennings has a slightly higher catch percentage, catching 65 percent of his passes to Bennett's 63.8 percent. However, Bennett has better hands—dropping just two percent of passes thrown his way compared to 4.2 percent for Jennings—and is better after the catch with a 5.75 YAC average to Jennings' 5.4. Bennett also forces a missed tackle every 6.54 catches, compared to Jennings' rate of one every 9.67.
Both players work similar parts of the field, as 43 percent of Jennings' catches have come between zero and 20 yards between the hashes; Bennett has had 47.8 percent of his come in the same area, according to Pro Football Focus. In 2011, 49.2 percent of Jennings' catches came in that area of the field, so that number dropped in 2012, likely due to the emergence of Randall Cobb.
While Bennett has struggled with injuries throughout his career, Jennings has had trouble in that regard recently as well, missing 11 games over the past two seasons.
Ultimately, if the Bears want to get more production out of Bennett, their best bet is to pair him with someone who will run routes that open the middle of the field, not someone who will work the same areas. The most successful offenses are those with players whose skills complement each other, not overlap.
Jennings used to be known as a deep receiver, but as he's aged, his skill set has changed. If Jennings were still the player he was a few years ago, he would be a perfect fit for the Bears, but at this point in his career, his skills do not fit their needs.
Jennings is still a good player who will help a team next season, but I don't think that team should be the Bears.