Packers' Jennings faces uncertain future in offseason
Greg Jennings is not naive and he's not ignoring reality, either.
The veteran wide receiver is in the final year of his contract, and has yet to hear from the Green Bay Packers about an extension. Common sense - and Green Bay history - would suggest that means he'll be playing somewhere else next season, a notion Jennings doesn't dispute.
But even with the Packers playing their final home game of the regular season Sunday, Jennings isn't ready to say goodbye just yet.
"It's a sensitive subject, a sensitive topic to talk about," he said Wednesday. "The reality is, we're going to have to cross that bridge at some point. But right now, we don't have to. We're playing Tennessee and I'm part of that game."
Drafted by the Packers out of Western Michigan in 2006, Jennings wasted little time establishing himself as one of the NFL's top receivers. He caught a career-high 12 touchdown passes his second year, and his average of 17.4 yards per catch ranked fourth in the NFL. He went over the 1,000-yard mark in 2008, 2009 and 2010, when he led the NFC with 12 TD catches.
Even with missing the last three regular-season games last year, he ranked a close second to Jordy Nelson in all receiving categories, finishing with 949 yards and nine touchdowns on 67 catches.
But with James Jones under contract through 2013, Nelson signed through 2014 and Randall Cobb emerging as a big-play threat pretty much anywhere the Packers want to put him, Jennings has become somewhat expendable. This season has been a stark reminder of that, with Jones, Cobb and Nelson keeping the offense afloat while Jennings was out for eight games with a torn muscle in his lower abdomen.
Jones leads the NFL with 12 touchdowns, while Cobb has a chance to become the first player in NFL history with 1,000 yards receiving and 1,000 yards in kick returns. Nelson has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, but he has six TDs and his 14.3 yards per catch average is the best of Green Bay's receivers.
"If these guys were jerks it would be different. But we're all so close," Jennings said. "I love that they're having success. They were applauding me when I was having my success, so it's a two-way street."
Jennings would like nothing more than to stay in Green Bay, and he can count Aaron Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy as two of his biggest fans. He's also a fan favorite, his No. 85 jersey among the must-haves in any Cheesehead's wardrobe.
But Green Bay general manager Ted Thompson has never been one for sentimentality, doing whatever is necessary to keep the Packers among the NFL's elite. Just look at the team's bitter divorce with Brett Favre.
"It's tough. Because you put everything into it. And at the end of the day, the only thing an organization really owes you is a paycheck. That's it. That is absolutely it," Jennings said. "When you get raw and uncut about it, the only thing they really owe you is a paycheck. And they can stop that if they want to."
The Packers could always use the franchise tag on Jennings, an option that doesn't have much appeal for the receiver. As much as he'd like to stay with his original team, he and his wife have four young children and their stability is his priority.
"You want your job to have some sense of sustainability, some foundation where you can just sit your family and know you'll be somewhere for a certain amount of time," Jennings said. "Franchise tags give you one year. So it's like, 'OK, we've got one year.' Who knows? I'll be in the same position talking about the contract situation all over again. It's just not clear. It's not in the best interest of the player to be in that position."
The timing of Jennings' injury makes matters even more complicated. If he'd had a typical year, there would be no shortage of teams interested in him. But he has only 201 yards receiving and one touchdown on 21 catches.
Since his return, however, Jennings has averaged double digits per catch, his best numbers of the year.
"I've made plays in the past. My resume isn't the thinnest," Jennings said. "It's pretty filled up with plays that I've made over my career. But is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Do I feel like I can get better and continue to grow? Absolutely."