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Vikings sign WR Greg Jennings from rival Packers

Saturday - 3/16/2013, 3:58am  ET

FILE - In this Jan. 5, 2013, file photo, Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings breaks the tackle of Minnesota Vikings cornerback Chris Cook during an NFL wild card playoff football game in Green Bay, Wis. A person with knowledge of the deal tells The Associated Press that the Minnesota Vikings have agreed to terms on a deal to land free agent receiver Greg Jennings from their rivals in Green Bay. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke, File)

DAVE CAMPBELL
AP Sports Writers

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- Greg Jennings spent seven years getting the best of the Minnesota Vikings secondary while playing for their bitter rivals in Green Bay.

No longer feeling as important to the Packers after two seasons shortened by injuries, Jennings crossed the border and found a team that welcomed him with desperately open arms.

Jennings signed a five-year contract with the Vikings on Friday, leaving Aaron Rodgers and that high-octane passing offense in Green Bay for the unproven Christian Ponder and the ground-and-pound Vikings.

The 29-year-old Jennings played in only eight games for the Packers in 2012, plus two in the playoffs, because of a torn lower abdominal muscle and finished with a career-low 366 yards receiving with an average of 10.2 yards per catch, also his worst NFL total.

In 2011, he missed three games with a sprained left knee. He said he felt lost in the shuffle behind younger Packers receivers such as James Jones, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and sounded determined to prove that his best years are not behind him.

"I can definitely still do it," said Jennings, who will turn 30 on Sept. 21. "I can definitely still make plays and be as exciting as I was in my earlier years."

Then he caught himself and chuckled.

"I am not old," he said. "I am 29 years old!"

If this story of a high-profile Packers player joining the Vikings sounds familiar, that's because it is. Safety Darren Sharper, kicker Ryan Longwell and, of course, quarterback Brett Favre defected before him.

"I'm not the first Packers player to jump on this side," he said with a smile.

Like the others, Jennings will be counted on to fill a gaping hole in Minnesota. The Vikings were in dire need of a No. 1 receiver after trading Percy Harvin to Seattle last week. Even when Harvin was in purple, Ponder had yet to play with a true game-breaker on the outside.

"You can just get a sense that he needed a little more around him to give him some help," Jennings said. "Hopefully I can help him a little bit."

Looking to give his young quarterback as much help as possible to truly evaluate his ability to be a building block for the franchise into the future, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman went against his philosophy of spending big money on outside free agents to get Jennings locked up. ESPN first reported the deal, which includes $18 million in guaranteed money and up to $47 million total.

"I'm a very strong believer in building through the draft," Spielman said. "But every once in a while something unique will come about that you just want to make sure that you can get accomplished to get that player here."

The two-time Pro Bowl pick will immediately be the leader of a non-descript group that includes Jerome Simpson, who is coming off an injury-plagued 2012 season, and second-year slot receiver Jarius Wright. Jennings will be counted on not only to help Ponder but the teammates at his position, including any rookies they draft next month.

The transition from a former league MVP in Aaron Rodgers to the still-developing Ponder won't be easy. Jennings spoke highly of his time in Green Bay, where he was drafted in the second round in 2006 and spent seven years catching passes from Favre and Rodgers.

He spoke honestly about the hesitation of playing with a quarterback who has been wildly inconsistent in his first two years in the league. So he sat down and watched some video of the Vikings from last season.

"I had to watch Christian," Jennings said. "I had to see what I was giving myself into. Very athletic quarterback, obviously his upside, his future is bright. I saw a young guy that was maturing."

What Jennings does have now that he never did in Green Bay, however, is an All-Pro running back. A league MVP, in fact. Adrian Peterson finished last season 9 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record.

Jennings has admired Peterson from the other side for years, never more so than in 2012 when he watched Peterson come back from a torn ACL in his left knee to carry the Vikings offense into the playoffs last season.

"You see a guy like 'All Day' sitting in that backfield and you see the cluster of guys that are gathered in that box for him, it's going to be some special things taking place," Jennings said, smiling again.

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