The Green Bay Packers declined to use their franchise tag on Greg Jennings, meaning the star wide receiver will become an unrestricted free agent next week.
The agent for Jennings, who ranks in the top 10 on the all-time Packers reception list, can begin speaking with other teams as soon as Saturday, although no deal can be signed until March 12, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report (http://bit.ly/13CKBco ).
The Packers could have kept Jennings out of free agency by applying their franchise tag to him by the Monday deadline, but then they would have had to offer him a one-year, $10.5 million contract. If Jennings signed the contract he'd be guaranteed the money, and even if the team released him, the salary would count against the team's cap.
Coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson said last month they'd like to retain Jennings if they could. However, Green Bay is trying to prepare for a potential cap crunch.
In the next few seasons, the Packers will have to re-sign linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji, and the 2011 league MVP, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay already released Charles Woodson, the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year, and longtime receiver Donald Driver retired last month.
Even though the team is about $22 million under the salary cap, spending top dollar on a receiver who turns 30 in September and missed 11 games the past two seasons could have been questionable.
The Packers can still pursue Jennings as a free agent, but that would probably happen only if Jennings drew limited interest from other teams. However, because the upcoming draft isn't especially strong at the receiver position, teams such as New England, Minnesota, Seattle, Miami and the New York Jets could be interested in the veteran.
A message left with the team Tuesday was not immediately returned.
Green Bay is well-stocked in the passing game with receivers Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones and tight end Jermichael Finley.
This is the third straight year the Packers have declined to use their franchise or transition tag on one of their free agents. Thompson last used the franchise tag on defensive linemen Ryan Pickett in 2010.