COMMENTARY | Packers fans, take a deep breath and say it with me, "Goodbye Greg Jennings."
Most cheeseheads have probably made peace with this reality by now given that Jennings has made it no secret he has no interest in the franchise tag and Green Bay isn't going to pay him to be in the class with Larry Fitzgerald and Vincent Jackson.
Whether or not he deserves that money remains a question, particularly given his bout with injuries this season, but it's obvious he's worth more than the $3.8 million he's due for 2012.
Jennings had positioned himself brilliantly to cash in on his success in Green Bay, signing major endorsement deals in the offseason with Old Spice and DirectTV. Suddenly, the receiver who was famous only in NFL circles was legitimately famous and in demand.
The 29-year-old receiver told the NFL Network's "Double Coverage" podcast earlier this season that his 'educated guess' would be that he isn't back next season, although his preference was to return.
But let's be really honest: Ted Thompson isn't going to back up the proverbial money truck for Jennings after a season in which the Green Bay offense managed 11 wins, won the NFC North and scored the fifth most points in the league, playing in large part without its top receiver.
Randall Cobb has emerged in the slot as the kind of dynamic player Jennings has been for this Packers offense. James Jones led the league in touchdowns this season and Jermichael Finley set a franchise record for catches by a tight end.
Not that this offense didn't have its struggles, but if your team scores 27 points per game, wins your division, and has a quarterback who can throw almost 40 touchdowns without you, how integral a piece are to the offense?
To be sure, Greg Jennings makes life easier for all of the receivers and Aaron Rodgers. Minnesota couldn't cover or tackle Jennings Sunday and he probably isn't even all the way back to full strength.
But if Randall Cobb hadn't turned an ankle the week before, how much damage could the slippery slot receiver out of Kentucky done against the Vikings? Considering Cobb is just as shifty as Jennings and perhaps even stronger as a runner, it's plausible to believe the second-year receiver would have inflicted similar damage.
Being hurt isn't how you want to spend your contract season, but neither is having to defend your sister for bashing Aaron Rodgers on Twitter (on Jennings' best day of the season no less), or complaining that you'd rather play in a dome.
The tweets aren't Jennings' fault and the dome comments are just a receiver who'd rather be on a fast track inside than running on frozen ground. They're honest moments, but they aren't helping his cause.
Particularly given his vocal disgust with the Packers and the contract negotiations, these little slights are magnified and analyzed. To many fans, it will seem like Jennings auditioning for his next job and dropping hints that he'd like to play somewhere indoors - Minnesota has cap space and will be looking for a receiver this offseason.
In the same vein, Jennings' offseason endorsement deals were transparent attempts to gain publicity (read: leverage), in anticipation of his impending free agency.
All of this, from the commercials to the Twitter issues and the sudden cantankerous attitude of Jennings is an about-face of sorts.
Jennings is a family man, a man of deep faith, has always been a great teammate, and exudes professionalism in practice and during games. It has been somewhat startling to watch him evolve into a more selfish player over the course of his career.
In 2010, he publicly complained about not getting the ball enough in an offense built around Jermichael Finley. Because it worked out, Green Bay won the Super Bowl that year feeding Jennings, it didn't seem like a big deal. And it wasn't really. But now, given what has happened since, it adds context to the situation.
Greg Jennings is one of the best receivers in football, but he's not Calvin Johnson or Larry Fitzgerald. He has earned the right to demand the ball and he is vastly underpaid. But in Green Bay, now is the right time to let him go.
Given his build and his skill set, it seems likely his skill will diminish more abruptly than the bigger, more physical receivers in the league.
Brandon Marshall, for instance, will be a force into his 30's because his game isn't predicated on pure speed and explosiveness. With Jennings, when he loses his burst, what does he have? Leadership, professionalism, character, but on the field in two or three years will he be worth the money he seeks? It seems unlikely.
Jennings will go down in Green Bay history as one of the best to ever play the position and his performance in the postseason in 2010, particularly in clutch situations, will be the stuff of legends. He can help shape his legacy this year in the playoffs if he performs like he did during the Super Bowl run. He'll make himself a lot of money playing that way too.
Jennings' Green Bay Packers career won't be defined by some of these petty outbursts or his injuries this season, but both will make it easier for Packer fans to say goodbye to number 85. They'll remember him with fondness for his funny Old Spice ads, his fingertip catch in the Super Bowl to seal the game, and his explosive plays down the field.
Knowing that they'll still have number 12 also helps ease the parting blow. And to hear Rodgers tell it, Packer fans should expect to make the same memories with number 18 as they did with 85.
Peter Bukowski is a Wisconsin transplant living in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime
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- Greg Jennings
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