MINNEAPOLIS -- To borrow a phrase from former Minnesota Vikings coach Brad Childress, originally uttered when talking about a very different kind of receiver than Greg Jennings, there always seemed to be something about Jennings that was a bit of a programmatic nonfit in Minnesota.
Jennings, who began his career bathed in quarterback stability and caught two touchdowns in Super Bowl XLV from Aaron Rodgers, spent a good chunk of his introductory news conference talking up Christian Ponder. He traded enough barbs with Rodgers through public comments that former coach Leslie Frazier had to tell him to stop during his first training camp. By his sixth game in Minnesota, he'd played a game with as many starting QBs (three) as he'd had in seven seasons in Green Bay. He only caught a touchdown pass from one of them (Matt Cassel) in his first season with the Vikings. And in his second, Jennings had played with three different starters by Week 5, as he worked to shift from a career in the West Coast offense to an Air Coryell-based attack.
The Vikings had tasked Jennings with mentoring Cordarrelle Patterson. The young receiver's struggles to master the nuances of an NFL offense seemed to exasperate Jennings at times, to the point where Jennings ended the season saying he wanted to work out with Patterson in the offseason and help him fix rough areas in his game. And while Jennings clicked with Teddy Bridgewater toward the end of 2014, he'd ended his first two years in Minnesota with an underwhelming 127 catches for 1,546 yards and 10 touchdowns -- numbers that weren't going to be good enough over 31 games to help Jennings carry an $11 million cap number in 2015, when he would be 32.
As odd as it was for the Vikings' to give Jennings $18 million in guaranteed money, considering Jennings had no other suitors at that price, the team left itself an out: All of the guaranteed dollars would be paid out over the first two seasons of the deal, giving the Vikings leverage if Jennings did live up to the contract's blockbusting expectations. According to a league source, the team approached Jennings about redoing his deal, but the Vikings and the receiver were unable to come to an agreement. And so, a day after they traded a fifth-round pick to Miami for receiver Mike Wallace -- who will carry a $9.9 million cap figure in 2015 and said he came to the Vikings with his contract "as-is" -- the Vikings ended their relationship with Jennings.
The Vikings pursued Wallace in 2013 while they were working to trade Percy Harvin to Seattle. They signed Jennings after Wallace opted for, as he put it on Saturday, "palm trees versus trees without leaves on them." Wallace seemed like a good fit for Norv Turner's vertical passing game, more so than a 32-year-old Jennings did, but Jennings still was an effective enough slot receiver, a fine route-runner and a trusted adviser for younger wideouts that it looked like he could return in 2015. All that wasn't worth $11 million in cap space to the Vikings, though, especially when they could save $6 million by releasing him. Jennings built a house in Minnesota, talked of how much he and his family loved the school systems in the Twin Cities, was the team's 2014 Ed Block Courage Award winner for his work in the community and had plans to live here after retirement. But let's not kid ourselves: A big, front-loaded contract was a catalyst in Jennings coming to Minnesota, and it certainly had a hand in his departure. Wallace is no sure thing, either, after his relationship with the coaching staff fractured in Miami, but he's three years younger, a few tenths in the 40-yard dash faster and a better schematic match for what the Vikings are doing now.
Jennings will undoubtedly catch on with another team; he still has value as a savvy, reliable receiver who's been one of the game's best after the catch. He left a deep group of wideouts in Green Bay for a chance to be featured -- and get paid -- like a No. 1 receiver. That chance never really panned out the way Jennings expected it would in Minnesota, and on Saturday, his clunky two years with the team came to an end.