playfully toyed with a reporter on Tuesday afternoon while refuting a story that said he was “close” to reaching agreement on a contract extension with the Packers.
If reports are correct, Jennings had good reason to be his usual smiling self. According to Milwaukee’s Fox television affiliate, Jennings is on the verge of signing a contract that would make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid receivers. Only the “small print” remains, a source told Packer Report in an e-mail late Tuesday night, with Jennings and the team agreeing on the major points.
The three-year extension would be put on top of his current deal, which expires at the end of this season and was set to pay him merely $535,000. The deal would lock up Jennings through the 2012 season and include more than $16 million in guaranteed money, according to ESPN’s John Clayton.
If accurate, Jennings’ contract – which could total as much as $30.5 million, meaning an average of more than $7.5 million -- would trail only Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald (four years, $40 million, $15 million signing bonus), Tampa Bay’s Antonio Bryant ($9.6 million as franchise player), Seattle’s T.J. Houshmandzadeh ($8 million average), Dallas’ Roy Williams ($7.8 million average) and Houston’s Andre Johnson ($7.75 million average). It would be on par with Buffalo’s Lee Evans ($7.45 million average) and slightly more than Carolina’s prolific Steve Smith ($7.3 million average) and Minnesota’s Bernard Berrian ($7.2 million average), if he hits certain benchmarks.
“Whether a deal is done, in the making, or not in the making, I’m going to be out here practicing, playing hard, trying to give our team the best chance to win. Period,” Jennings said on Tuesday at his locker. “It’s not hard to be patient. I’ve waited this long. There’s no sense in me rushing things now. Good things come to those who wait.”
Jennings is coming off the finest season of his brief career, posting 80 catches for 1,292 yards and nine touchdowns. In his last two seasons, he has 21 touchdown receptions, a figure that trails Randy Moss (34), Terrell Owens (25) and Fitzgerald (22). Even after his production fell late in the season, Jennings still led the NFL with eight receptions of 40-plus yards and trailed only Smith with 21 receptions of 20-plus yards.
Packers general manager Ted Thompson stayed out of high-stakes free agency last offseason, in large part because of the large number of players set to hit free agency following this season. He has said he expects to use all $27 million of available cap space, and Jennings will be the most pricy on the list.
Other key free-agents-to-be include left tackle Chad Clifton, outside linebacker Aaron Kampman, linebacker Brandon Chillar, nose tackle Ryan Pickett, safety Nick Collins, guard Daryn Colledge, center Jason Spitz, defensive end Johnny Jolly and cornerback Will Blackmon. With his deal all but wrapped up, Jennings avoids becoming collateral damage in collective bargaining talks. If a new CBA is not agreed upon this year, 2010 will be played without a salary cap but players would not be eligible for unrestricted free agency until they’ve played six seasons. That would have included Jennings, and it does include fellow members of the 2006 draft class -- Colledge, Spitz, Jolly and Blackmon – as well as Collins.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook.