[Note: This is a cross-post of a column I wrote over at Vikings Territory.]
“Why’d the Vikings cut him? He was such a nice guy.”
That seemed to be the overriding sentiment when the Vikings announced they had cut bait with soon to be 32-year old wide receiver Greg Jennings Saturday afternoon, only two years into a five-year $47.5 million deal ($18m guaranteed). Not impassioned pleas of “He’s still a #1 receiver” or “Jennings still has something left in the tank”, those came after all of the nice guy pinings – and then to a much lesser degree.
Don’t get me wrong, Jennings is a nice guy. He seems very affable and approachable in the media and he and his wife Nicole do great things in the community via The Greg Jennings Foundation. Plus the goodbye he posted was one of the classiest exits from a team that I’ve ever seen.
But it did strike me as odd that in a salary cap sport where fans are very quick to point out when a player isn’t earning his money–especially on big money free agent deals–that Jennings seemed to have gotten a pass the last two seasons. Earning franchise wide receiver money while turning in average production and even mailed-in effort at times – Week 5 @ Green Bay being people’s exhibit A. (Although to be fair, a lot of players put a stamp on it that game. Something about getting it handed to you by your biggest rival in the cold rain with Christian Ponder as your quarterback doesn’t exactly inspire effort.)
Yes, in his two years playing with the Vikings he was receiving passes from three sub-par NFL quarterbacks (Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder, Josh “Who?” Freeman) and a rookie in Teddy Bridgewater – who we all believe will be great, but did experience the up & down growing pains that most rookie quarterbacks go through. But since when do we allow sub-par or inexperienced quarterback play to be an excuse for low production from receivers making elite wide receiver money? Never. If we started now, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson would like to have a few words with us.
According to Spotrac, Jennings was stated to be the 11th-highest paid receiver in the NFL this season, in terms of contract per year averages, at $9M. Those averages would have put him just behind former Packer teammates Randall Cobb ($10M) and Jordy Nelson ($9.76M), and ahead of the likes of Victor Cruz ($8.6M), Antonio Brown ($8.39), and Torrey Smith ($8M). That’s a group of peers that Jennings simply wasn’t part of anymore.
In two years in Purple, Jennings put up 127 receptions for 1556 yards and 10 TDs.
Antonio Brown put up 129 catches for 1698 yards and 13 TDs. In 2014 alone.
And yes, newly acquired wide receiver Mike Wallace is fourth on that list ($12M average), but his deal has no guaranteed money after this season and actually costs less against the 2015 cap ($9.9M) than Jennings would have ($11M). Since the Vikings could have easily moved on from either player next offseason, it’s essentially a one-year deal. With everything being close to equal, I don’t blame the Vikings for gambling on the young deep threat who could become a top tier receiver if he gets his head right.
Wallace has an opportunity to be part of the Vikings’ long-term plans. Jennings? Not so much. Additionally with Thielen progressing into his third season and Wright on the last year of his rookie deal, you can’t fault the Vikings for wanting to get a closer look at what they have in the pair.
If Jennings had been in trouble off the field (Chris Cook, Adrian Peterson) or was a headache on it and in the locker room or weight room (Percy Harvin), Vikings fans would have been up in arms about his princely contract in exchange for meh production and probably rejoiced when the team cut him loose. Instead, there was a lot of sadness and second guessing of the decision. That’s the benefit.
Being a “nice guy” gives you a wide berth with the fans just as much as being “not nice guy” gives you a narrow one. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t matter to NFL front offices. As long as you’re not so toxic that fans and sponsors revolt in disgust and if you can help the team win on Sundays, there will be a spot for you. Being a good person and teammate is just gravy on top. If being a “nice guy” was the only requirement in the NFL, Madieu Williams (2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award recipient) would still be on the Vikings and starting opposite of Harrison Smith.
Greg Jennings is a nice guy with a philanthropic heart and is a human being I wish more professional athletes would aspire to emulating.
…But I get why he was cut.