Jennings will have to earn keep, high salary

The Vikings went against their established free-agent M.O. when they gave big money to Greg Jennings. Now the pressure could be on for him to prove he's still a top receiver or his future and his contract could be cut short in Minnesota.

When the Vikings hit Mankato, there may be few players with more to prove than wide receiver Greg Jennings. The Vikings under the Rick Spielman have had a history of going Logan's Run on veterans. If you're over 30, you're done.

Yet, Jennings, age 30 at the time, was signed to a five-year $45 million free agent contract with almost $18 million of it guaranteed to be the latest Packer to come west of the Mississippi River. The sentiment back in Wisconsin was that Jennings was a young receiver in the Brett Favre era and was systematically being phased out in the Aaron Rodgers era because the powers that be in Green Bay had opted to go with the dearth of younger, less expensive talent. Jennings has started earning the reputation of a player who gets injured.

It was clear Jennings, despite his contribution to the franchise, wasn't in the "big picture" thinking moving forward (see Jared Allen and Kevin Williams for supporting documentation of similar Vikings cases). He had missed time in both of the previous two seasons and the Packers had discovered they could get by and even thrive without him in the lineup.

When free agency opened last year, Jennings wasn't a Day One signing. But the Vikings made the rare move to pay at or above market value to land him. His $9 million-a-year contract average was more than younger receivers with a potentially brighter future, like Victor Cruz, Antonio Brown and Pierre Garcon. Jennings' signing was similar to the contract given by Chicago to make sure Brandon Marshall didn't leave.

Those are pretty stiff comparisons, because all of them are viewed as go-to receivers. Jennings clearly wasn't.

There has been a line of thinking that claims Jennings was brought to the Vikings to be a player/coach on the field for a post-Percy Harvin kiddie core of wide receivers the Vikings were planning to go with in 2013.

At the time, it appeared to be an investment.

A year later, one has to wonder if it's an investment or a potential salary cap liability.

In Jennings' defense, the Vikings had a revolving door at quarterback in 2013. Suffice it to say, there weren't many Vikings other than Adrian Peterson in fantasy football lineups. Nobody had big numbers. But only one guy was being paid handsomely to post pedestrian numbers.

In the "What have you done for me lately?" world in the NFL, perhaps no player on the Vikings roster has more to prove this season than Jennings.

The guaranteed money of Jennings' contract will expire – somewhat – after this season. A year from now, if Jennings is going to be a Viking, his salary cap number will be $11 million. If he isn't with the team, his cap implication is $6 million – in the form of "dead money." The conundrum for the Vikings will be this: Is the $5 million difference worth expending? Welcome to 2014, Greg Jennings.

With a new coaching staff, every member of the Vikings – whether new or vested – has to "earn his spot." Perhaps nobody has to earn his spot more than Jennings – not for this year, but 2015.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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