The Minnesota Vikings may be the bitter rival of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, but their free agency targets resemble something else altogether. Minnesota has become more than just another NFL team, for aging Green Bay Packers they are the last stop before retirement.
This trend goes all the way back to former Green Bay and Minnesota Kicker Ryan Longwell. Many an icon and fan favorite of the Green Bay Packers has hung up his green and gold uniform to play for the rival purple and yellow as one last hurrah before retiring from the league.
Greg Jennings has become the latest Packer to go to the Packers dark side. After playing out a successful career for the Green Bay Packers that saw him catch the touchdown that gave Brett Favre the career record for touchdown passes against those very Minnesota Vikings, Jennings has decided to join his former rival in free agency this season.
He is far from alone in his decision to travel west across state lines. Notable Packers who have turned to the Vikings in the twilight of their careers, just before retirement include Brett Favre, Ryan Longwell, Robert Ferguson, and Darren Sharper. Desmond Bishop also joined the Vikings this off season after being released from the Packers after suffering a devastating knee injury last season. He may not be nearing retirement, however if his knee doesn’t hold up he may be forced to leave the game as a result.
At age 29, and with an injury history, Greg Jennings became expendable to the Green Bay Packers this off season. The team has three legitimate threats at the position in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and James Jones, as well as Quarterback Aaron Rodgers to throw them the ball. General Manager Ted Thompson realized that the money that Jennings would command was not a wise expenditure for a team already with three stars at the position.
Jennings was a fan favorite at Lambeau Field for each of his first seven seasons in the league thanks to his star quality play and his always positive attitude. However the fans seem to support both Thompson and Jennings and the respective paths their decisions have taken them down.
With his body showing signs of wear and tear, Jennings has decided to play out the twilight of his career with the Minnesota Vikings as so many former Packers have also done. Jennings wanted big money this off season, and the Vikings were desperate for talent at wide receiver after losing Percy Harvin to the Seahawks. The result was a 5 year $45 million contract that snatched him from under the nose of their rival.
This season will be interesting for Jennings, after missing significant time due to injury last season, he will have to prove he still has the ability to be a number one receiver in the NFL. That challenge is furthered by having Christian Ponder throwing him the football. Jennings has had nothing but elite quarterbacks targeting him thus far in his career. Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers are the only quarterbacks he has played alongside.
Brett Favre was the highest profile example of a Packer using Minnesota as a stepping stone to retirement, although Brett Favre retired every season towards the end of his career. After a falling out with Ted Thompson and the Packers, he made a detour with the New York Jets before putting on the purple uniform of the Vikings to end his playing days.
Darren Sharper joined the Vikings after an illustrious career with the Packers, playing two seasons with the team before retiring as a New Orleans Saint. He was one of the Packers most beloved players during his 8 seasons in Green Bay, becoming famous for his ‘Sharper Shake’ after making a big play.
Ryan Longwell was one of the most accurate kickers in football while with the Packers before finishing his career in 2011 with the Minnesota Vikings.
Desmond Bishop is a rare example of the Vikings signing a Packer that still is young enough to contribute for the Vikings
for years into the future. The middle linebacker is just 28 years old and has only started five seasons in the NFL, however his knee injury last year made the Packers skeptical that he would be able to return to his previous high level of play.
The reason the Minnesota Vikings covet former Green Bay Packers, even if they are just a step away from retirement is perhaps simple. The Green Bay Packers have built an organization that has suffered just two losing seasons (2005 and 2008) since 1992 when Brett Favre became the team’s starting quarterback.
A winning tradition has been instilled in its players, and the Vikings perhaps are simply seeking to instill that same attitude in its roster. By adding a few key veterans to compliment Adrian Peterson, the Vikings theoretically would be able to add a winning attitude and turn its perennial woes around. The Vikings have never won a Super Bowl, while the Packers have the NFL record with 13 league titles.
Signing Packers players in the twilight of their careers has become commonplace for the Vikings, and their fans are quick to embrace their former rivals. Many have even called for the Hall of Fame to enshrine Brett Favre as a member of the Vikings rather than a Packer. The Hall of Fame doesn’t actually retire players as a member of any particular team.
Regardless of the reason that many former Green Bay Packers use the Vikings as a last hurrah in the NFL is unclear, however it is something that is worth discussing. This is one of the most heated rivalries in sports, yet so many players make the switch from Green Bay to Minnesota. Greg Jennings and Desmond Bishop have done so this season, and Vikings fans surely hope that they provide at least the schematic knowledge necessary to defeat their rivals this year.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieGille
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express