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Packers in Uncharted Territory with Jennings

by Mike Conklin

E-mail: mikeconklin@packerpedia.com
September 6, 2012

 

With the current contract situation of Greg Jennings, Ted Thompson and the Packers find themselves in an unfamiliar position. For the first time under the current regime, they are coming to the end of a second contract for one of Thompson's own drafted players.

To their credit, the Packers have become known as a team that "takes care of its own". In recent years they have given extensions or new contracts to an impressive number of their homegrown players, including Tramon Williams, Josh Sitton, John Kuhn, Jordy Nelson, Mason Crosby, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, Tim Masthay and T.J. Lang.

In each of those examples, the player was entering what should be the heart of their playing career when they were re-signed. To go a step further, a case could be made that each of them were still ascending players at the time the new contract was issued. And in each case, the player was signed to his second contract.

In general terms, the second contract may often be the most lucrative for the player and will probably last through their mid- to late-twenties, in terms of age. By the time the next contract comes around the player would be right around the age of 30, at which point the risk increases. At that age, the risk-reward ratio certainly comes into play more than ever before when it comes to signing a big money contract. It often becomes a headline-grabbing negotiation as well. If he is a good player, he will have served several years with the same team and will have the strong support of the fans. In many cases the player will have exorbitant contract demands, not only because he is an established veteran with fan support but also because it will likely be his last realistic chance to make huge dollars.

In his time in Green Bay, there have been several instances where Ted Thompson chose not to re-sign noteworthy players to a lucrative third contract, including Mike Wahle, Marco Rivera, Ahman Green and Cullen Jenkins. In most of those cases, public sentiment was clearly on the side of the players rather than the front office. Thompson took varying amounts of heat for those decisions, but in the end each of the players was allowed to leave and play elsewhere.

Jennings is approaching the end of his second contract, and will be 29 years old in two weeks. When he signed his second deal, it was only for three years. Obviously, Jennings and his agent knew what they were doing and wanted another shot at a big-money deal. The Packers certainly knew that this day would come as well, as long as Jennings remained healthy and continued to produce.

The only player Thompson drafted prior to Jennings that is still on the roster is Aaron Rodgers, who is still working under his second contract. If Jennings were any less of a player, it would probably be a no-brainer. He would be allowed to walk away, having kind words spoken about him in a press conference after the fact. The situation with Jennings is different. He is a core player. He is a leader. He is one of the faces of the franchise. And he is among the best wide receivers in the league. Having one of his own drafted players in this difficult position is something we have not seen before from Thompson, so we have not seen any examples of how he handles these types of situations.

There are parallels with what happened with Cullen Jenkins last year, of course. Jenkins had just finished his second contract, and was in line for a big money deal. At the age of 30, Jenkins was allowed to move on even though they did not have a proven replacement on the roster. It is difficult to know just how much we can glean from what happened in that situation, however. Despite the similarities of circumstance, Greg Jennings is simply a superior player to Cullen Jenkins.

Muddying the waters is what the Packers have done in the past with Donald Driver and Charles Woodson. Both of them were given extensions well past the age of 30, going against McCarthy's "it's a young man's league" mantra. Driver uncharacteristically didn't show up for the first week of OTA's in the summer of 2009, and was quietly given a restructured contract shortly thereafter. Woodson was issued a two-year extension in 2010, when he still had three years left on his deal. Both of these players still appeared to be close to top form when they signed those contracts, but they were both more than three years older than Jennings will be at the end of this season. Each of them were wildly popular, which likely worked to their advantage. Driver has always been a fan favorite, and Woodson was just coming off of being the AP Defensive Player of the Year.

Jennings is wildly popular himself, and if his winning smile and upbeat personality were to leave Green Bay it would be a very unpopular move. With new contracts for Rodgers, Clay Matthews, and others on the horizon, Thompson knows that he doesn't have the same luxury of being short-sighted as fans do. He finds himself in a very difficult situation.

For his part, Jennings is taking an approach similar to that of Driver earlier this year. After the Packers were eliminated from the playoffs in January, Driver let his position be known...that he loved playing for the Packers and wanted to play the rest of his days there, but if he had to he would finish his career somewhere else. Other than that comment, he remained positive and did everything he could to remain in the good graces of both the Packers and their fans. Jennings has taken a similar approach this week. He was booked for nine interviews with various major media outlets on Tuesday morning alone. His comments...repeated again and again...were eerily similar to those of Driver. He wants to remain a Packer, but the ball is in their court.

The strategy worked for Driver. We will find out soon how it will play out for Jennings.

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Photo Credit: Associated Press