I've never read a column that I wanted to disagree with more than Journal Sentinel sportswriter Bob McGinn's effort Thursday morning. In a lengthy, well-reasoned argument, McGinn argues that Jennings--who is entering the final year of his second contract--should be traded during the 2012 season, before he inevitably leaves in free agency after the year ends.
The reason is money. McGinn cites Clay Matthews, B.J. Raji, Morgan Burnett, Marshall Newhouse and Jermichael Finley--all Packers cornerstones, with the possible exception of Newhouse--as players who will need new deals within the next two years. And although Aaron Rodgers is signed through 2015, it's possible that the Packers will look to raise his already considerable pay grade soon enough, since he's far outplayed the six-year contract he signed in 2008.
In McGinn's view, there's simply not enough to go around, and Jennings plays at the position of greatest depth. Donald Driver may not be back in 2013, since his contract expires after this year, but Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are signed through 2014. James Jones is also signed through 2013 and will command far less money than Jennings when it's time to renegotiate with him. Finley might be replaceable with athletic D.J. Williams waiting in the wings, but Jennings's backups are more accomplished and Finley has two "prove-it" years to go. The Packers' No. 1 WR is much more likely to be the odd man out.
McGinn makes further points about Jennings's recent injury trouble and his apparent discomfort against the 49ers, but the money and the backups are the key points.
As much as I want to, I can't find any holes in the argument, save one. If Jennings continues his recent run of injuries (knee, concussion, groin), he might make the Packers' decision a little bit easier. But Jennings's value to the Green Bay offense remains immense. He's sitting on five straight years over 900 yards, during which time he's caught 46 regular-season touchdowns. He dominated the 2010 playoffs (excepting Philadelphia) as the No. 1 receiver, without Finley or Cobb and before Nelson's emergence. Eight catches for 101 yards against Atlanta. Eight for 130 against Chicago. And three brilliant catches in the Super Bowl, two for touchdowns and one unforgettable catch that ignited the Packers' final drive of the game. As a Super Bowl contender, you can't replace that kind of playmaking.
Trading Jennings during the season would be a major, major blow to Green Bay's Super Bowl hopes, assuming the WR shakes off his injuries and regains his dazzling form. The Packers have shown that for Super Bowl XLVII. Why would they backpedal now? The front office has known all summer that Jennings's contract was due to expire; the issue didn't just appear out of nowhere.
So Jennings will, almost certainly, play out the year. The Packers aren't the Milwaukee Brewers, i.e. they're not going to have a fire sale unless they get a mind-blowing offer. Then what? They could let Jennings leave in free agency, or do the obvious thing with a tag-and-trade. Ted Thompson hit Corey Williams with the franchise tag in 2008, then shipped him to the Browns. If Jennings is going to leave, the Packers could use the franchise tag and then trade him to wherever. They'd still get 2012 out of him and they'd get a high draft pick in trade, most likely better then they'd get in the compensatory pick system. I concede that Green Bay's best WR has to go, but that doesn't mean that the Packers have to potentially give up a championship year to do it.