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With Greg Jennings likely to leave and Donald Driver retired, the receiver spot is in flux.

WRs: Packers offseason by position

Players under contract
No.
Name
Ht.
Wt.
Age
Exp.
College
87
Jordy Nelson
6-3
217
27
 5
Kansas St.
89
James Jones
6-1
208
28
 6
San Jose St.
18
Randall Cobb
5-10
192
22
 2
Kentucky
11
Jarrett Boykin
6-2
218
23
 R
Va. Tech.
10
Jeremy Ross
6-0
215
24
1
California
 
Free agents
No.
Name
Ht.
Wt.
Age
Exp.
College
85
Greg Jennings
5-11
198
29
7
W. Michigan

 

The good news:  During his time in Green Bay, a common belief about quarterback Brett Favre was that he made less-than-elite wide receivers look elite. Former general manager Ron Wolf, who acquired Favre in the most famous trade in franchise history, would later lament the fact that he never plied Favre with greater talent at the position, instead counting on the ascension of Robert Brooks and Antonio Freeman in the wake of Sterling Sharpe’s injury-induced retirement. Brooks, Freeman and Donald Driver all became top pass-catchers with Favre, who also had to play with the likes of Corey Bradford and Bill Schroeder until former coach/GM Mike Sherman invested a first-round pick in Javon Walker in the 2002 NFL Draft.

The same has not been said about current quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose top receiving targets have been Jennings (second round, 2006), Jones (third round, 2007), Nelson (second round, 2008) and Cobb (second round, 2011). GM Ted Thompson certainly has seen the value in giving his QB plenty of weapons, and it’s about to pay off as Jennings is expected to leave via free agency and Driver, the franchise’s all-time leading receiver, has called it a career. But there’s also this: Rodgers has the talent to elevate the games of receivers with lesser pedigrees, and he may get the chance. Boykin, who made the team as the No. 6 receiver coming out of training camp as an undrafted free agent, impressed Rodgers throughout the season before suffering an ankle injury on a critical fourth-and-1 catch in the regular-season finale at Minnesota. Ross also showed promise, although mainly on special teams before his disastrous fumble and subsequent benching in the NFC Divisional Playoff loss to San Francisco to end the season. Both players will have every chance to make the roster this summer.

“I think those guys have shown that they can be productive,” wide receivers coach Edgar Bennett said. “I think all of our guys, when given the opportunity, were very productive. As of right now, I’m not really looking at it from that standpoint because I don’t think any decisions (about Jennings’ future) have been made just yet.”

The bad news:  Jennings has been realistic from the very beginning of the 2012 season, when he took the fact that the team hadn’t made any effort to sign him to an extension as proof that he was playing his final year in Green Bay. He even said as much in a July interview at the start of training camp, and he never really wavered on that position, even as he packed up his belongings after the season-ending loss to the 49ers. In a phone interview on the NFL Network on Wednesday night, Jennings didn’t rule out a return to Green Bay, but he sure sounded like he was simply being the polite, media-savvy guy he’s always been. “It is what it is. Everyone hopes to stay where they were drafted, but the reality of it is it’s a business,” Jennings said. “So understanding that and being mindful of that, I have to stay afloat and again make sure that all of my ducks are in a row.”

It’s unclear what Jennings’ market will be. He’s unlikely to land a deal commensurate with the five-year, $55 million deal Vincent Jackson got last offseason to move from San Diego to Tampa Bay, as Jennings’ age (he turns 30 on Sept. 21) and recent injury issues (he missed eight games with a torn lower abdominal muscle suffered in the regular-season opener) figure to lower his price tag. That said, it seems unrealistic to think Jennings will find such a soft market that the Packers will be able to bring him back on the cheap.

Later in the NFL Network interview, Jennings was asked if he would consider playing for the rival Minnesota Vikings. “Absolutely,” Jennings replied. “All other 31 teams are an option when it comes to being able to have an occupation and play the game I love to play.” He was also asked if the Miami Dolphins, a receiver-poor team coached by ex-Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, are a consideration. “I wouldn’t mind that at all,” he said. “The weather is definitely nice, they have an up-and-coming quarterback and they definitely have a defense that’s pretty solid, and some pieces on offense that are pretty solid as well. Like I said, I’m open to all options, obviously Green Bay being one of those options as well.”

The big question:  If Jennings does leave as expected – and if tight end Jermichael Finley is released in a cost-cutting move, which remains a possibility – what will Rodgers’ arsenal look like? “That’s a hypothetical that I’m not going to answer at this point,” is how offensive coordinator Tom Clements answered that very question after the season ended. But the truth is, the Packers and Rodgers have already gotten a feel for life without Jennings, thanks to the injury that not only cost him eight games but forced him to leave two others early. While he certainly had his moments where he reminded everyone why he’s a two-time Pro Bowl player – he caught eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season finale at Minnesota – the Packers essentially spent half the season trying to figure out how to alter their offense with him sidelined. Including playoffs, Jennings ended up playing only 531 snaps, roughly half of the 1,149 played by Jones, who was the only receiver who stayed healthy for all 18 games.

With Nelson (671 snaps, four games missed with a hamstring injury) and Cobb (733 snaps, one game missed with knee/ankle injuries) also missing time, the Packers had their top four receivers – Jennings, Nelson, Jones and Cobb – on the field together for six of their 18 games, and in four of those six games, one of them was unable to finish the game. ”They’re all good players. If they’re all available and healthy, it’s beneficial to us,” Clements said. “Obviously we feel if they come back healthy and stay healthy it will be good for us.

Offseason outlook: Assuming Jennings does in fact generate reasonably strong interest on the open market and is gone – and even if he doesn’t break the bank, the idea of him returning is far-fetched at this point – Thompson will have to decide whether it’s worthwhile to invest another high pick in the receiver position. Given how productive they’ve each been at their best, Nelson, Cobb and Jones still make for a formidable 1-2-3 combination. Cobb led the Packers in receiving in 2012 with 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in regular-season play; Jones set career highs in receptions (64), yards (784) and touchdowns (an NFL-best 14); and when Nelson was healthy for a full 2011, he caught 68 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. But as proven last season, the offense isn’t as explosive when one or more of the pieces is missing. It’s hard to picture Thompson signing a lower-tier free agent to replace Jennings, since the team has other needs and it’s simply not his modus operandi. Picking a receiver in the draft seems likely, given his track record. He could then let Boykin and Ross duke it out for the fifth spot.

Next: Tight ends.

– Jason Wilde

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