EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. All the wining-and-dining, and a lot of money, has finally landed the Minnesota Vikings their outside receiver and pried him away from a division rival.
After more than a day of courting, Minnesota signed Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings on Friday to a five-year contract. ESPN's Josina Anderson is reporting that Jennings' five-year deal is for 47.5 million with 18.5 million guaranteed. Jennings, 29, was the biggest-name receiver still available in free agency, and the Vikings were perilously thin at the position after the trade of Percy Harvin to the Seattle Seahawks earlier in the week.
"To me, he was a unique situation," Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman said of being aggressive in free agency with Jennings. "And I tell you guys all the time, if there's something unique out there that you have an opportunity to go get a player, we're very, very fortunate to have the ownership we have to give us the resources we need to go do a move like we did today. So, again, I'm a very strong believer in building through the draft, but every once in a while something unique will come about that you just want to make sure that you can try and get accomplished to get that player here."
Jennings, who was limited to a career-low eight games for the Packers last year, finished with only 36 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns. He continues the border-state crossover in recent years that has seen former Packers Brett Favre, Ryan Longwell, Darren Sharper, Robert Ferguson and others head to Minnesota.
In changing sides of the rivalry, Jennings said his decision boiled down to the Vikings or returning to Green Bay.
"Number one, I definitely wanted to know that they wanted me," Jennings said. "I wanted to feel that they wanted me to be a part of what they were doing and a part of the future. And I got that feeling early, and I got that feeling quite often. So it didn't take long for that to surface and show itself."
The Vikings needed an established receiver for quarterback Christian Ponder, who is heading into a pivotal third year since being drafted No. 12 overall by Minnesota in 2011.
Jennings, a second-round draft choice by the Packers in 2006 out of Western Michigan, is a two-time Pro Bowler who had five straight seasons with at least 50 catches and 900 yards and four straight seasons with at least nine touchdowns before being sidelined with an abdominal injury last year. He missed three games in 2011 with a knee injury and sat out much of 2012 training camp with a concussion.
"He's a young man that we have tried to corral for a number of years as we've tried to defend him," coach Leslie Frazier said. "And now to have him on our football team, it's something that we're all excited about. And we're looking forward to a lot of great days as he brings a lot more to the table than just his athletic ability on the football field.
Rumors persisted of a possible match between Jennings and Minnesota since free agency opened on Tuesday, but Jennings reportedly was looking to cash in on a deal of more than 10 million per year. The Vikings' and Packers' interest was lukewarm at that cost, which left Jennings to wait a few days.
Jennings may have wanted a deal similar to what Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Mike Wallace landed with the Miami Dolphins, a reported five-year, 60 million contract with 30 million guaranteed. On Wednesday, receivers Wes Welker and Danny Amendola each agreed to deals with new teams that averaged a reported 6 million and 6.1 million, respectively.
Jennings' price tag dropped enough to leave Minnesota willing to pull out all the stops to sign him. His visit with the Vikings started Thursday and continued with dinner Thursday night at a Minneapolis steakhouse with Spielman, Frazier, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, assistant general manager George Paton and even defensive end Jared Allen.
"Hey, Minnesota stepped up to the plate," Jennings said. "They showed me and my family that they wanted the Jennings family to be part of what they were doing as an organization. And that's why I'm standing here."
Minnesota's sell job was important given what the Vikings had left after trading Harvin to Seattle on Monday and what was left available in free agency. Jennings was the last established receiver on the market, and without Harvin, Minnesota was left with Jerome Simpson, who re-signed with the team Wednesday, Jarius Wright, Stephen Burton, Greg Childs and Chris Summers at the position.
Simpson struggled through an injury and suspension last year, finishing with just 26 catches for 274 yards. Wright flashed some of his potential after being a fourth-round draft pick. He was a weekly inactive the first nine games while Harvin was healthy but got his chance to play after Harvin suffered an ankle injury and had 22 catches for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Burton has just seven catches in his two NFL seasons. Childs is still recovering from torn patellar tendons in both of his knees, and Summers spent last season on the practice squad.
"We knew we're going to have probably a young receiving corps but wanted to get a solid veteran, not only that can play and be productive but also be that leader in that room," Spielman said. "Because as much as Greg is great as a player, we even think of him better as a person and better as a leader."
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