Will the Green Bay-to-Minnesota pipeline produce another hit for the Minnesota Vikings? That's the question we're asking Thursday morning amid the news that receiver Greg Jennings is taking his first free-agent visit to the Packers' NFC North rival.
The Vikings have a long recent history of acquiring players the Packers either no longer want or hadn't yet re-signed, a list that includes quarterback Brett Favre, kicker Ryan Longwell, safety Darren Sharper and receiver Robert Ferguson. Over the years, the Vikings also made free-agent pitches to defensive end Aaron Kampman, fullback William Henderson and receiver James Jones, in each case jump-starting their eventual agreements with the Packers. (In 2010, the Vikings brought in receiver Javon Walker to training camp for a comeback attempt but released him before the season began.)
While that history will surely inflame passions on this blog and between fan bases, Jennings' case is a relatively unique one. He is in the prime of his career, and according to multiple reports, the Packers have genuine interest in bringing him back. It seems the Packers have bet -- accurately, so far -- that he wouldn't fetch one of the few premium contracts available to receivers in this market and have been waiting for the dust to settle.
The Miami Dolphins gave Mike Wallace a five-year deal worth $60 million, and former Vikings receiver Percy Harvin got $67 million over six years from the Seattle Seahawks. After that, however, the receiver floor has dropped. Wednesday, the annual average salary receivers were fetching fell almost by half, to about $6 million. Wes Welker got a two-year deal worth $12 million from the Denver Broncos, and the Patriots replaced him by signing Danny Amendola to a five-year deal worth $31 million.
That makes for a fascinating dynamic from multiple angles, a discussion we started earlier in the week.
We all know how barren the Vikings' receiving corps is after the Harvin trade, and they could give Jennings an unquestioned role as their No. 1 receiver in a midrange passing scheme that caters to his strengths. By agreeing to this visit, Jennings must have an inkling that the Vikings will make him a competitive contract offer -- and by "competitive," I mean more money than what the Packers have offered. If nothing else, Jennings could use a division rival to put pressure on the Packers to raise their offer.
The Vikings have a great legacy with wr, lets start rebuilding today with @gregjennings ... Then we draft at least 2 wrs @espnnfl ... #vikes
— Cris Carter (@criscarter80) March 14, 2013
On the other hand, Jennings would face several levels of uncertainty in Minnesota. Quarterback Christian Ponder will get another year as the unquestioned starter, but he is far from established and it wouldn't be remotely fair to compare him to the quarterback Jennings would have in Green Bay. There is also a greater possibility for instability with the Vikings, considering the team declined to give coach Leslie Frazier a contract extension after his 10-6 performance in 2012. The chance the Vikings have a different coach in 2014 is much higher than the Packers making a change by that point.
Some Packers fans want Jennings to return because of his skills. Others don't like the idea of him helping the Vikings out of a personnel hole. And a few of you wonder if it's worth any investment of salary cap space to bring him back when the team has Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on the roster and are presumably gearing up to sign quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews to monster contract extensions.
I've been in the camp that assumed the Packers planned to part ways with Jennings given the lack of substantive negotiations over the past year. Jennings put up his Green Bay house for sale, and the proverbial ship seemed to have sailed. But sometimes the market has a way of changing and/or clarifying the thinking of a player, a team or both. And so here we are. It's on. And from our perspective especially, it's going to be tons of fun.