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Updated: March 15th, 2013 11:13pm
Greg Jennings bolted Packers because Vikings 'stepped up to the plate'

Greg Jennings bolted Packers because Vikings 'stepped up to the plate'

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Negotiations between Greg Jennings' agent and the Minnesota Vikings didn't begin until Friday, but the wheels were in motion last weekend.

That's when general manager Rick Spielman called Jennings' agent, Eugene Parker, during the NFL's negotiating period to express the Vikings' interest in the 29-year-old receiver.

From there, Spielman waited. Jennings was waiting, too. Then, Wes Welker signed his two-year, $12 million contract with the Denver Broncos, signaling the end of free agency's first wave and perhaps providing the final nudge for Parker to call and set up a visit to Winter Park.

"We had a very specific game plan in place," Spielman said on Friday night, shortly after Jennings signed a five-year contract and was introduced to the media.

"I don't like to rush things. Sometimes if you rush things on a player or a situation, it doesn't work out. So, that's what we try to preach. We want it to be a fit for the player as much as it is a fit for us, and that's very important to us."

Jennings' contract is worth a reported $47.5 million, with $18 million guaranteed -- well short of the five-year, $60 million deal Mike Wallace signed with Miami minutes after free agency opened on Tuesday, but more than many around the NFL believed Jennings could command.

He acknowledged the decision "pretty much" came down to the Vikings or the Green Bay Packers, the only team he'd played for since they drafted him in the second round (52nd overall) out of Western Michigan in 2006.

"And hey -- Minnesota stepped up to the plate," Jennings said. "They showed me and my family that they wanted the Jennings family to be a part of what they were doing as an organization and that's why I'm standing here."

Wearing a Vikings sweatshirt and smiling often during a hastily called session with reporters, Jennings also dropped strong hints he was intrigued by the idea of being the star receiver in Minnesota, as opposed to part of an ensemble cast if he returned to Green Bay.

He expressed frustration about the time it took for his sports hernia to be diagnosed last season and the way he got "shuffled around a little bit" on his way to a career-low 36 receptions for 366 yards (10.2 average) last season.

"I was looking for change," Jennings said. "Again, Green Bay ... I gave them seven good years. They were seven great years for myself. I had a lot of success. Obviously, we were able to win, and it was great. ...

As a player who feels -- as a competitor, I'll say -- someone who wants to be on the field all the time and feels like he can still do it, I can definitely still do it and I can definitely still make plays and be as exciting as I was in my earlier years. And I'm not old. I'm 29. I'm not old."

Jennings said he has studied the Vikings' offense -- but mostly quarterback Christian Ponder, whom he spoke with briefly on the phone about coming to Minnesota, because "I had to see what I was getting myself into."

What Jennings saw was a "very athletic" young quarterback experiencing growing pains with an undermanned receiver corps that did Ponder no favors.

"What I've seen on film -- he didn't have a lot of options to go to," Jennings said. "No disrespect to the guys that he was throwing the ball to, but you can just get a sense that he needed a little bit more around him to give him some help and hopefully, I can help him out a little bit and hopefully, we can continue to add some pieces around him to make him into the quarterback that he potentially can be."

Jennings praised the "family feel" he got when he and his wife, Nicole, had dinner on Thursday night with Spielman, coach Leslie Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and Pro Bowl end Jared Allen, among others.

He also clearly was enamored with the idea of playing in an offensive with reigning MVP Adrian Peterson, whose presence forces defenses to gang up against the run -- leaving more one-on-one matchups on the perimeter.

"As a receiver, you always talk about playing with a back like that," Jenning said. "Standing on the other sideline, you're in awe of what this guy can do and everyone knows he's going to get the ball. So, just to be able to able to take some of that pressure off of him and off of this offense, I hope to be able to do that."

Spielman is committed to building through the draft, but he called Jennings the sort of "unique" situation the team needed to explore.

Asked if he's concerned about Jennings' age -- he turns 30 in September -- or recent injury history, Spielman said, "We looked at that. But we had him physicaled (Friday) and felt fine with the physical. I also know there's been some pretty good receivers that have been productive in their late 20s, early 30s."

Jennings joked about his age on Friday night. He also acknowledged time is short for adding another championship ring to the one he won with the Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

To that end, he heaped praise on the direction of a young Vikings team he helped the Packers eliminate 2½ months ago in an NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field.

"From a football perspective, obviously, when you start to age and get years underneath your belt, you want to go to a team that's still a contender, that has an opportunity to win but not -- the window isn't closing," Jennings said. "The window is opening up, and I saw that with this ballclub last year. They kind of snuck up on everyone, including the Packers, ourselves, when I was over there.

"It's exciting to see what they bring to the table, and now, for me to be a part of this, I'm excited to add in addition to what they've already brought to the table, to those 10 wins. Hopefully, we can get 11, 12, 13 -- who knows?"

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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