Last offseason, some ridiculous money was thrown around at wide receivers without half of Jennings' resume.
Vincent Jackson got $55 million over five years to go from San Diego to Tampa Bay. Pierre Garcon signed for five years and $42.5 million upon leaving Indianapolis for Washington. Laurent Robinson, with a ridiculously thin resume, received $32.5 million to go from Dallas to Jacksonville. Plus, DeSean Jackson received $51 million over five years to stay with Philadelphia, Marques Colston was given $36.3 million over five years to stay with New Orleans and Stevie Johnson pocketed $36.25 million over five years to stay with Buffalo.
"The writing is on the wall," Jennings said late in the season after engaging in no talks toward a contract extension. "I'm not going to walk by it and act as if it's not there."
Jennings turns 30 on Sept. 21. To be sure, numerous receivers have put up huge numbers after turning the big three-oh. Donald Driver, for instance, caught 86 passes when he was 30, 92 when he was 31, 82 when he was 32, 74 when he was 33 and 70 when he was 34. That's a stunning 80.8 receptions per season. Randy Moss led the NFL with a staggering 23 touchdown catches when he was 30 and averaged 1,255 yards and scored 47 touchdowns from ages 30 through 32.
With one last big payday awaiting, Jennings had a miserable season. Limited to eight games by an abdominal injury that required surgery, he caught 36 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
What's striking is his 10.2 yards per reception. After averaging 14.0 yards per catch as a rookie in 2006, Jennings averaged 17.4 in 2007, 16.2 in 2008, 16.4 in 2009 and 16.6 in 2010. After slipping to 14.2 in 2011, he fell off the face of the earth this season. In all, 133 wide receivers caught at least 10 passes. Only 13 of them had a lower average.
Jennings emerged as one of the NFL's ultimate big-play merchants during the third game of his career, when he turned a short pass into a 75-yard touchdown against Detroit. Entering this season, his four receptions of 80-plus yards was a franchise record and was tops in the league among current players. He also led the NFL with 30 catches of 40-plus yards from 2007 through 2011 and was tied for the lead with 58 receptions of 25-plus yards.
This season, the big play was nonexistent. Until a vintage Jennings-esque 45-yard catch and run at Minnesota in Week 17, his longest catch of the season was a 27-yarder against Detroit in Week 13. To that point, that was his one and only catch of even 20 yards.
What personnel men around the league will have to determine is whether Jennings' production waned because of the injury or if it's an exaggerated sign of things to come.
As one scout said at the Senior Bowl, "He's not the biggest guy and he's never been the fastest guy. Maybe it was the injury, but it looked like he'd lost a step. He can't afford to lose a step, no matter how great of a route-runner he is. To me, it didn't look like he had any interest in getting hit until the end of the year, when maybe he figured he had better show something (to the rest of the league)."
Jennings indeed cranked it up at the end of the season. After missing seven consecutive games, Jennings had nine catches against Minnesota, Detroit and Chicago. Back in the groove, Jennings hauled in seven passes for 45 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee and a virtuoso performance of eight catches for 120 yards and two scores in the finale at Minnesota. In the playoffs, he added 10 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
"I've made plays in the past," Jennings said. "My resume isn't the thinnest. 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."
Barring a luke-warm free-agent market, that growth won't be coming in Green Bay.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.