Why did the Packers reward Greg Jennings but are in a standoff on a contract extension with Nick Collins?

These are interesting times for the Packers and a couple of former second-round picks, Jennings and Collins. I negotiated their rookie contracts in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and am admittedly biased as a fan of both and a friend of Jennings.

The deal with Greg had to get done. Like Aaron Rodgers a year ago, the Packers made it a top priority to lock in the centerpiece of their future -- and they paid dearly to do so. Jennings was going to break the bank; the only question was when.

Jennings has long been a priority for the Packers, dating to last season. In my biased opinion, he’s been the most underrated receiver in the NFL, due in part to his mild-mannered, high character ways in a position filled with selfish divas. He’s been a quiet and classy team player in Green Bay and a favorite of the two people who matter most to his career, GM Ted Thompson and Rodgers.

Jennings and agent Eugene Parker waited patiently for the right deal. Earlier this spring, when I worked with Eugene on Jason Peters’ contract with the Eagles, Eugene kept asking if I could go up to Green Bay for a few hours and help Greg’s deal get done. I told him that Greg would get top dollar; the Packers would not let him enter his final year without a deal. They did not. More on the particulars of the deal in a future column.

Collins is a bit of a different story. Having played four years on a rookie contract, he expected to be re-upped by now. The last year we were allowed to negotiate five-year deals in the second round was 2005, and although it was met with a lot of resistance by agents, we were able to procure that length for both Nick and our other second-rounder, Terrence Murphy (Murphy played in only a handful of games before having to retire because of a neck issue discovered after an injury on a kickoff return).

Although Collins’ 2009 pay has been escalated to more than $3 million, it’s merely a pittance compared to what he’s seeking long-term. Moreover, Collins’ representative – Sportstars – is the same group that represented Ryan Grant last year in his dispute with the team.

Grant was rewarded as early as the Packers have ever rewarded a player in terms of years of service, and he owes part of that money to a former Packer named Brett Favre. The messy Favre divorce was front and center throughout the summer, and with the Packers needing something positive coming out of their offices, they did something very out of character and extended the contract of Grant, an exclusive rights player with no free agency leverage for years to come. Timing is everything in life; just ask Ryan Grant.

Now the Packers have shown their hand as to who was first priority this year. Collins has waited longer than Jennings and far longer than Grant and made a Pro Bowl only, in his mind, to be stuck on a five-year rookie contract that isn’t even allowed anymore.

Never a dull moment in Titletown, speaking of which….

Why are there reports that Brett Favre has already agreed to a contract with the Vikings?

Brett has been on national television referring to the Vikings as “we,” and no one from the Vikings has ever denied that there’s mutual interest in this happening. As mentioned here many times, Brett wants to play – as he did last year – and the Vikings want him to play for them, as they did last year. It’s déjà vu all over again, although this time the Packers do not hold Brett’s rights.

Since Brett is a free agent for the first time, the issue has been the contract, with Brett wanting most of his money simply by showing up, and the Vikings wanting a good chunk of it to be “earned” through performance thresholds. Until then, everything is speculation, although speculation has driven this story from the beginning. If a contract is agreed to, it needs to be memorialized and sent to the league for review, as mandated by NFL rules. That has not happened.

Why is the NFL expanding the application of the Rooney Rule beyond coaches to include front-office positions?

This is the natural evolution of the rule put in place to expand the applicant pool for high-level NFL positions by including minorities, who may not have been at the forefront of decision-makers’ thoughts from the outset. The thrust of the rule is that when a position becomes open – head coach and now general manager or similar front office executive – teams must consider and interview minority candidates.

In theory, the rule makes a tremendous amount of sense. The idea – forwarded by Steelers owner Dan Rooney, hence the name – of more opportunities for minority candidates is obviously a good and welcome one. Too many quality people have been overlooked for one reason or another, including one I worked with for nine years, Reggie McKenzie of the Packers.

In practice, however, there have been issues. Just as the Indianapolis Colts knew right away years ago that the coach they wanted was Tony Dungy, sometimes teams know who they want and have zeroed in on their candidate – for their own reasons – right away. Although no one would ever admit it, this results in interviews of minority candidates that are little more than sham interviews.

This is not what the rule intended, yet it’s an unfortunate consequence of the requirement. This has happened on the coaching side and will happen on the executive side as well.

Why are players like LaRoi Glover and Fernando Bryant retiring?

They’re retiring because there are no clubs preventing them from retiring. Football players want to play, and they will play as long as there is a suitor for their services. Brett Favre is a perfect example. Had the Vikings not come calling, he would be retired as well.

Players like Glover and Bryant have realized there are no opportunities. We’ll see several more of these “retirements” in the coming weeks as players realize it’s better to affirmatively state retirement than have the silence of the phone do it for you.

And for my Pet Peeve Why of the Week…

Why are Major League Baseball Players such as Manny Ramirez and J.C. Romero allowed to play for their clubs’ minor league-affiliated teams while on suspension from Major League Baseball? How can this happen?

The answer segues nicely with the stepping down of MLB Players Association leader Don Fehr. The reason for this is the same reason a lot of things happen in baseball (players being paid during disciplinary, but not drug, suspensions; no salary cap; steroids persisting for a decade without detection; etc.): the strength and power of the MLBPA. Why are these players rights available to baseball players? Because they were “won” in negotiations by the union.

Fehr is a brilliant lawyer and a relentless negotiator. When I teach negotiations at Wharton Business School, I talk about some negotiators having a need to “win.” While that may make the person feel good and empowered, it usually leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of counterparts. And since, in most cases, the parties will be dealing with each other again and again, it may be better to leave something on the table rather than win the negotiation.

Fehr has won most of the disputes with management and has a grateful and wealthy constituency to show for it. The question is whether the game is better off for his efforts. Certainly the players and their $3.3-million average salary are. 

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