Well today the story came out from multiple sources that free agent wide receiver Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers would like a contract worth $14 million a season. That seems like pretty lofty goals for a player who only saw action in 8 games last season and created 366 yards of offense for the team. A salary of $14 million a year would rank Jennings 3rd in the NFL and well above the market prices for anyone not named Johnson or Fitzgerald. I’ve personally considered Jennings to be the least of the “big 3” of Jennings, Dwayne Bowe, and Mike Wallace but those thoughts were just based on watching the players rather than strong analysis of anything. Now I’ve done analysis of both players and what they should receive so lets take a look at exactly how Jennings may stack up against these two players.
Now for starters I am just going to throw out Jennings 2012 campaign since he dealt with injuries most of the season. While I don’t think a team can just throw that out for the sake of comparison I will do that just to see what the highest end market is for Jennings. So for Jennings the 3 year statistics will be from 2009-2011:
Clearly these are solid numbers and superior to both Wallace and Bowe, but Jennings also plays in a prolific offense with arguably the best Quarterback in the NFL.
Now comes the time where we look to see just how much Jennings contributed to his team’s wide receiver corps. over that three year stretch.
Overall these are extremely steady numbers. He is more or less about 1/3 of the Packer passing attack that gets filtered to the Wideouts. His yardage contribution began to decline in 2011 (and these stats are adjusted for only his 13 games played so its not due to less games) and his interceptions are higher than expected given his targets, both of which are negatives. Green Bay seems to have little interest in bringing him back and I think these numbers paint a picture as to why. He is part of the machine but not the key component of it.
Rather than rehashing the old charts with all the players lets just look at Jennings in comparison to the other two stud free agents.
From a standpoint of importance there is little comparison between Jennings and Bowe. Bowe was on a far worse team with no supporting cast. He was the dominant figure in Kansas City accounting for nearly 50% of the WR offense. Those are the numbers that define true number 1 potential. Jennings was targeted slightly more than Wallace in Pittsburgh but did not have the yardage production of Wallace. The touchdown category is no comparison. Bowe and Wallace are potential difference makers, Jennings is not. Jennings also saw a much higher percentage of passes get picked off than these other two players.
The Final Verdict
If you want to get a better idea of the market you can just read the two articles I wrote looking at Bowe and Wallace. Even discounting the last season Jennings is simply not in the same class as the group of talent that makes over $10 million a season. At best you would say he would earn the same as Wallace, which I put to be in that $9.7 million dollar range, but that doesn’t even take into account the other variables that come into play with Jennings.
Jennings has only played in 21 regular season games over the last two years. His YPC fell to 14.2 in 2011 to just 10.6 in 2012 after years of being around 16. That’s a 38% drop. Jennings will be in his 8th NFL season next year compared to 7th for Bowe and only 5th for Wallace. In a study I am working on looking at productivity of receivers beyond their 5th year in the NFL, the drops in production seem to begin in year 9 for elite receivers and Jennings is close to that and his numbers are already seemingly in the declining stage. While that won’t make him unproductive by any means he probably will not be the consistent 1,000+ yard number 1 target that a team would expect. Most likely he fits best on a team that is in a “win now” position rather than a developmental stage like the Miami Dolphins., unless they were going to pair him with another high quality wide receiver, such as Wallace.
$14 million is a pipe dream. If he accomplishes that number that is truly amazing, but I can’t imagine any team would see him as that type of talent. My guess is the model we would be looking at would be that of Anquan Boldin in Baltimore back in 2010. Boldin was in his 8th season in the NFL when traded to the Baltimore Ravens and quickly signed a new 3 contract extension worth $25 million in new money containing $8 million in firm guarantees and $10 million in functional guarantees. Boldin’s numbers immediately tailed off though he was always a useful player and was an integral part of their Super Bowl run, but he just never was the dominant player they expected.
At the time I believe the top market contract was Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals making $10 million a year with $15 million in guarantees. So Boldin’s deal was 83% of the top market number in the league and a few percent less on the guaranteed percentage of the contract. Maybe that is where Jennings came up with $14 million. The top of the market APY is now around $16.2 million, 83% of which is just under $13.5 million a year. The problem with using that number as a base is that the two contracts at the top of the market are positional outliers which won’t be used by other teams as a point of reference. The real top of the market is Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson at just under $11.2 million a year. Based off that salary Jennings new APY would be $9.296 million a year which fits in much better with our statistical analysis and actual past market data.
So I think Jennings realistically is looking at a 4 year contract worth just north of $37 million with around $12 million in real guarantees and between $15 and 16 million in functional guarantees assuming teams feel he is perfectly healthy and negotiate based on what he did prior to 2012. I think for him to push the price point to DeSean Jackson territory ($9.7 million a year) he will need to reach certain incentives to get there. My guess is most teams would be disappointed with the overall results over the 4 year period but that is a reasonable deal if he can sign with a winning team.
What benefits Jennings finding a home and maybe pushing the price is the fact that he was injured last season and put up a statistically poor season. Teams that should be most interested in a player like Jennings who is likely just out of his prime are those that think its window of opportunity is now such as the Patriots, Texans, 49ers, or even Cowboys. Those are the type of teams that tend to overpay a bit for results in the present and deal with the problems that could arise in the future. Utilizing a number of “not likely to be earned” incentives in his contract such as a large bonuses for40 receptions or 400 yards available one time in any of the next four years and backed up by guaranteed base salary in future years, cap strapped teams can fit Jennings under the cap in 2013 and push those charges out into future years when perhaps they have more payroll flexibility. That’s really the perfect match for Jennings and his best chance of getting his top contract.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.