Since the face of free agency changed in 1993, several home-grown Packers wideouts have come and gone but none have matched the success they had when they were in Green Bay.
So, where does old pal Greg Jennings fall into all of this?
So far, right in line.
The ex-Packer turned Viking has had a disappointing first year in Minnesota. Since signing a five-year, $45 million contract as an unrestricted free agent this spring, Jennings has made more headlines with his mouth than his play. His season on the field should give current Packers receivers some food for thought as their contracts get set to expire.
Jennings, who returned to practice Thursday (Achilles) after sitting out last Sunday at Seattle, looks to make his return this Sunday as a visitor at Lambeau Field for the first time. He comes back on a 2-8 team having played with three different quarterbacks. He never faced such dire situations in his seven years with the Packers.
In nine games this season, Jennings has averaged a pedestrian 3.8 catches and 45.6 yards per game. Outside of his abbreviated 2012 season with the Packers – in which he had surgery for a sports hernia – he is on pace for his lowest catch total since his second season in the league (2007) and lowest total in receiving yards since his rookie season. His 12.1 yards per catch is more than 3.0 yards less than his career average in Green Bay, where he was regarded as one of the game's top deep threats.
Interestingly enough, James Jones and Jordy Nelson will each be coming up on their second contract expirations soon, just as Jennings last season. Jones' deal will expire after this season and Nelson's after the 2014 season. Randall Cobb, playing on his rookie contract, is also scheduled to become a free agent after 2014.
For Jones, 29, and Nelson, 28, this probably will be the last chance to land a big, long-term deal. Both re-upped with the Packers in 2011 at a bargain price. An unrestricted free agent that summer, Jones re-signed just after the lockout ended, for three years and just less than $10 million when he could not find a better deal elsewhere. Nelson signed an extension Oct. 1 for just less than $14 million ($3.5 million signing bonus) in the midst of a career year. Asked by a reporter late that season if he made a mistake by jumping on an extension before seeing his worth on the open market, Nelson simply replied, "Nope."
No one knows for sure what Jones and Nelson are thinking this time around. Jones led the league in receiving touchdowns (14) in 2012 and catches just about everything thrown his way. Nelson has established himself as one of the top receivers in the league and his production has hardly fallen off while quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been sidelined with a collarbone injury for basically the last three games.
Only the Packers' front office has an idea if it can keep one or both or neither of the receivers. And then what about Cobb? What about the other scheduled free agents coming up at other positions? There are several other factors involved, including the fact the Packers committed nearly $200 million in contract extensions for Rodgers and Clay Matthews this past spring.
But the prospects of leaving Green Bay may be tougher to swallow for Jones, Nelson and Cobb after seeing what has happened to Jennings in Minnesota. It could, and probably will, be worse elsewhere. On top of that, they would be giving up the chance to continue to work with the best quarterback in the league in his prime. Other Packers receivers did the same with Brett Favre and found little success.
Remember Javon Walker? He was on a path to mega-stardom in 2004 (89 catches, 1,382 yards, 12 TDs in his third season) then he ripped up his knee, was traded after a contract squabble, and saw his career come off the tracks with two teams over the next four years. At 31 years old, he never made it back.
How about Antonio Freeman? After making a name for himself and earning a lucrative long-term contract in Green Bay, he wanted to be anywhere but by 2001. He caught on in Philadelphia for one nondescript season before coming back for a short stint in Green Bay in 2003. He, too, was done at 31.
Bill Schroeder, Corey Bradford and Desmond Howard (who was really a kick returner) left Green Bay via free agency for greener pastures and found the going rough, too. Only Bradford, in Houston, showed signs but never fully reached the potential he showed under his rookie contract with the Packers.
To be fair, Jennings is just nine games in with the Vikings. He still has a chance to turn it around. Then again, the long-term prognosis would look much better for him if was in Green Bay right now rather than Minnesota.
For Jones, Nelson and even Cobb, that is surely something to think about.
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org