Life without Jennings: It’s Already Here
With the exception of two Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks, the Green Bay Packers’ greatest team strength the past decade has been its receiving corps.
Led by Ted Thompson’s sheer brilliance in targeting wide receivers in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft, the Packers have been able to stockpile cheap, young receiving talent to the extent that the question is how they can get each on the field.
From 2006-2008, the Packers drafted three uber-talented receivers. It began with Greg Jennings before transitioning to James Jones and Jordy Nelson, respectively. Thompson then followed that model of success with the selection of Randall Cobb in 2011.
In his second season in Titletown USA, Cobb has become the dynamic all-purpose athlete Green Bay has severely lacked. Through seven games, the former Kentucky Wildcat has totaled 37 catches for 435 yards and three scores. He has been a factor lining up out of the backfield while continuing his prowess as one of the NFL’s most feared kick returners.
It’s Cobb’s growth that leads me to believe Green Bay will be drafting yet another high-round pass catcher in the 2013 NFL Draft.
With Greg Jennings sidelined nearly all of the early season with a groin injury, the Packer offense started the season in disarray. Defenses keyed in on the vertical threat Nelson and limited his touches. With Green Bay unable to keep defenses honest with the long ball, the passing game sputtered and the loss of Jennings was undoubtedly felt in Packer Nation.
But what we have seen from Aaron Rodgers the past three games is a testimony to the fact that the Packers can win without the Pro Bowler Jennings. A-Rod has passed for 16 touchdowns to only two interceptions in that span with the help of Cobb, Nelson, and Jones, who has already matched a career high with seven touchdowns. While Nelson has re-emerged as Rodgers’ go-to man and Cobb has effectively worked the middle of the field, Jones has snatched away Jennings’ role as a sideline possession receiver and improved his formerly unreliable hands. The case can be made that Jennings has become a forgotten man in the Packers’ heap of game-changing receivers.
Make no mistake about it, Jennings is as dangerous a weapon as any receiver in the game when he is healthy. But the fact of the matter is that he has not been healthy for long stretches of each of the past two seasons. In a contract year and set to be a prize free agent in the offseason, Jennings will most likely command a salary well out of Green Bay’s reach. How can the Packers afford to pay the big bucks to an injury prone player, especially at a position of unmatched success by any other team in the league?
That is the problem Thompson will need to address, but the simple answer from a fan’s perspective is that they cannot. B.J. Raji and Clay Matthews are set to test the waters of free agency in 2014 and the two young defensive studs represent two much more critical pieces to the Super Bowl-chasing puzzle than Jennings does. Even if Jennings takes a hometown or injury-influenced discount, it will most likely not be enough to make the rest of the finances work.
So, with the assumed departure of Jennings and the almost sure retirement of the declining icon Donald Driver following this season, Green Bay will be in that unique position to draft another early round receiver to groom into an immediate fourth receiving option and eventual starter. Though a man with excellent off-the-field character and on-field production will not be easy to replace, we well know that there is not a better evaluator of receiving talent than Ted Thompson.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We should enjoy the rest of the Greg Jennings era in Green Bay. He has plenty of highlights left to give in the Packers’ quest for a 14th championship this season.