Three years ago, Greg Jennings was a surprising draft choice by the Green Bay Packers.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded out of their pick early in the second round, passing over higher-rated receivers like Chad Jackson and Sinorice Moss in the process. After grabbing Daryn Colledge with the 47th overall pick, Thompson used pick No. 52 on Jennings. At an unimposing 5-foot-11 with a less-than-stellar 40-yard time and credentials from Western Michigan, the selection raised a few eyebrows. Too small, too slow, too small a school.
Today, Jennings has emerged as one of the NFL's budding talents. Even without blinding top-end speed, he led the NFL in 40-plus-yard receptions and tied for first in 20-plus yard receptions last season. With 21 touchdowns over the last two seasons, he's emerged as one of the league's top big-play artists.
On Wednesday, the Packers added about $27 million and three years to Jennings' minimum-salary contract.
"It's a huge difference looking at a lot more numbers," Jennings said when asked about the difference he felt between signing this deal and his first deal, a four-year pact worth 10 percent of his new contract. "It's a great feeling. No. 1 thing I honestly thought about was how good God has been to me. A lot of people don't get to experience something like that. I'm grateful. I understand that I'm blessed. Just to know that I'm going to be financially stable, not only for myself but for my family, my children, it's an exciting feeling. It really hasn't hit me yet.
"Probably until I get that first check."
In three or four years, if Jennings continues his climb up the pecking order of NFL receivers, he'll get to experience that feeling again. The 25-year-old Jennings – he turns 26 on Sept. 21 -- will still be a young man when his contract expires following the 2012 season. So, if history repeats itself and the Packers and Jennings agree to a contract a year early, Jennings only will be 28 and, presumably, in the prime of his career.
"That's the beauty of it," Jennings said. "Kudos to my agent. Eugene Parker is one of the top agents at doing what he does best, and that's negotiating contracts. That was pretty much our game plan. If there is to be a career after this contract — I can't tell the future but that was definitely the game plan, to make it a situation where I would have another opportunity to go up to the table and do a deal."
Saying that, Jennings insists he's not a "greedy guy" who will want "more, more, more" money. Considering Jennings' low-key way of celebrating each of his nine touchdown receptions in 2008 and 12 in 2007, it's easy to believe him when he says he won't evolve into one of the NFL's many me-first, "diva" receivers. Jennings credits his parents; his dad is a minister in their hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., and his mom is a church missionary.
"My parents. No. 1, my parents," he said. "God is the head of my life, and to God be the glory. He's allowed me to get to this point. The Bible says, ‘To whom much is given, much is required,' and that's the way I live my life. I've been given a lot, I've been blessed with a lot. It's my job to give back, to do the right things as a steward of what he's blessed me with."
Jennings already was a steward with his Greg Jennings Foundation, which helps underprivileged children and families with after-school programming, college-prep courses, home-ownership programs and more. Jennings also is active in Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and other causes. Now, he has the financial tools to really make his mark on the world.
In other words, Jennings is more than just a good player. He's also, as they like to say at 1265 Lombardi Ave., "Packer people," which makes him a perfect person to join Aaron Rodgers as the foundation of this proud franchise for years to come.
"I'll be doing my share, trust me," he said.
On and off the field.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.