MINNEAPOLIS — Friday morning, the Minnesota Vikings had four receivers with a grand total of 126 catches and no Percy Harvin, who had been traded to Seattle four days earlier. Friday evening, they got down on one knee, at least figuratively, and presented Greg Jennings, one of the best receivers in Packers history, with a five-year, $47.5 million proposal that included $18 million in guarantees.
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 as we’ve tried to defend him. We’re looking forward to a lot of great days with him.”
Frazier then said something that, knowing him, wasn’t an intentional slight against Harvin, but still could serve as a final bow on the messy divorce between the Vikings and their talented, but perpetually unhappy former receiver.
“Greg brings a lot more to the table than just his athletic ability on the football field,” 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 no longer could afford to play it safe. Not if he wanted to improve the team’s woeful passing attack and give third-year quarterback Christian Ponder a chance to become the franchise quarterback the Vikings think he can — and Harvin thinks he can’t.
“This,” Spielman said, “has been an exciting week for the Minnesota Vikings.”
Longwell went on to set Vikings records during a successful six-year stint in Minnesota. Favre had a magical 2009 season that ended just seconds from the Super Bowl. As for Jennings, well, he assured everyone that he, too, has plenty of gas still in his now-Purple tank.
After voicing his respect for the Packers organization for drafting him and giving him seven successful seasons, 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 talent young receiving corps.
“As a competitor, I’m someone who wants to still be on the field and feels he can still do it,” Jennings said. “I can definitely still do it. I can definitely still make plays. I can be as exciting as I was in my earlier years.”
Jennings then smiled, obviously thinking about his age. Although he was considered the second-best receiver available in free agency, Jennings’ age scared off everyone but the Vikings and Packers.
“I’m not old,” Jenning said. “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.”
Before free agency started, Jennings said a team’s quarterback would be a big part of his decision. Harvin reportedly wanted out of Minnesota in part because of Ponder, yet Jennings saw something different when he looked at Ponder from afar.
“I think it’s going to be a great deal (with Ponder),” Jennings said. “I think it’s a maturation process. He’s gone through that and he’s going to continue to go through that. What I’ve seen on film, he didn’t have a lot of options to go to.
“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. Hopefully I can help him out a little bit.”
Jennings also said he can’t wait to take advantage of all the eight- and nine-man fronts that teams use to stop running back Adrian Peterson.
“From a football standpoint and from a selfish standpoint as a receiver, you see a guy like All-Day sitting in that backfield and you see the cluster of guys gathered in the box for him,” Jennings said.
“There’s going to be some special things taking place on the football field (this year).”
Jennings ranks among the top seven Packers all-time in receptions (425, seventh), receiving yards (6,537) and receiving touchdowns (53, fifth).
Although he had only 36 catches for 366 yards last season, he posted three consecutive 1,100-yard seasons from 2008 to 2010.