Never fear. There’s always a Packers star willing to come here.
In 2006, the Vikings were desperate for a kicker. Enter Ryan Longwell, Green Bay’s all-time leading scorer. In 2009, the Vikings were even more desperate at quarterback. Hello, Brett Favre.
Friday morning, the Vikings had four receivers with a grand total of 126 career catches and no Percy Harvin, who had been booted one way to Seattle four days earlier. By Friday evening, they had gotten down on one very desperate knee — at least figuratively, we think — and presented Greg Jennings, one of the best receivers in Packers history, with a five-year, $47.5 million proposal that includes $18 million guaranteed.
He said yes. And that sent smiles and fist pumps throughout the Vikings organization.
“It’s a great day for the Minnesota Vikings,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s a young man that we have tried to corral for a number of years. We’re looking forward to a lot of great days with him.”
Against him, the Vikings were 4-11 in 15 meetings over seven seasons. Jennings grabbed 68 catches for 1,018 yards and 10 touchdowns, making the Vikings regret biannually the day they drafted center Ryan Cook two spots before the Packers selected Jennings 52nd overall in 2007. Ouch.
Frazier also said something Friday that wasn’t an intentional slight against Harvin. But it still sounded like a perfect saga-ending twist on the messy divorce between the Vikings and their ultra-talented, perpetually unhappy former receiver.
“Greg brings a lot more to the table than just his athletic ability,” Frazier said. “We’re really excited about the fact that he brings high character. What he’ll bring to our locker room, the energy he’ll bring to what we do in practice, along with his leadership, those were all qualities we were looking for.”
Initially, the Vikings weren’t expected to dip into the free agent pool with an offer as hefty as one that averages out to $9.5 million a year. Especially for a player who turns 30 in September and has missed 11 games because of knee and core muscle injuries the past two seasons.
But the Harvin trade changed everything. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman needed Jennings to improve the team’s woeful passing attack and give Christian Ponder a chance to become the franchise quarterback the Vikings think he can and Harvin thinks he can’t.
“I’m a very strong believer in building through the draft,” Spielman said. “But every once in a while, something unique will come about and you just want to make sure to get that player here.”
After voicing his respect for the Packers organization, Jennings talked about looking for a change after an injury-marred 2012 season and “getting shuffled around a little bit” because of Green Bay’s talented young receiving corps.
“I can definitely still make plays,” Jennings said. “I can be as exciting as I was in my earlier years. I’m not old. I’m 29. I’m not old. Let me throw that out there. I am 29 years old. I will not be 30 until after the [season] starts.”
Jennings ranks in the top seven in Packers history in catches (425, seventh), receiving yards (6,537, seventh) and receiving touchdowns (53, fifth). He spanned two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, catching Favre’s 421st touchdown pass, which broke Dan Marino’s NFL record in a win at the Metrodome, and Aaron Rodgers’ first career touchdown pass.
Now, he’s paired with Ponder, who struggled often during his first two NFL seasons. Jennings admitted that he had to study Ponder’s game film closely before considering the Vikings.
“I had to see what I was getting myself into,” Jennings said.
While Harvin reportedly wanted out of Minnesota in part because he lacked confidence in Ponder, Jennings said he saw an athletic quarterback who has what it takes to get better.
“What I’ve seen on film, he didn’t have a lot of options to go to,” Jennings said. “No disrespect to the guys he was throwing the ball to, but you can just get a sense that he needed a little more around him to give him some help.”
Jennings also said he can’t wait to take advantage of all the eight-man fronts that teams use to stop Adrian Peterson.
“There’s going to be some special things taking place on the football field,” said the man with the 15.4-yard career average per catch.
Jennings said he already respected the Vikings for how they “kind of snuck up on everybody, including the Packers” last year. But sitting down to dinner with them on Thursday night at Manny’s also gave him a family vibe, he said. Among the former sworn enemies sitting across from him was defensive end Jared Allen, whom Jennings said he’s now excited to call a teammate.
“I’m very appreciative [of the Packers], but it is a business,” he said. “This has happened before. I’m not the first Packer to jump on this side, so that makes it a little bit more relieving. It’s exciting. Obviously, it will be a little bit more meaningful to get a win over those guys over [in Green Bay] than probably any other game on the schedule.”