Extra Points Column: Eagles Erred by Cutting Jenkins
The Eagles made a huge mistake Tuesday.
Instead of giving safety Malcolm Jenkins a much-deserved new contract, they decided to let him leave, thus leaving the team without its best defensive player and strongest leader.
“Malcolm Jenkins has been an outstanding player for us and we are proud of everything he accomplished both on and offe the field during his time in Philadelphia,” the Eagles said in a statement. “Malcolm was a great teammate and leader, as well as one of the toughest and most reliable players to ever play in this city.”
During his six-year tenure in Philadelphia, Jenkins established himself as one of the NFL’s top safeties through his production, consistency, durability and leadership.
He played all 1,098 of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 2019 – he was one of only three NFL defensive players to not miss a play – which continued an amazing streak. While the Eagles have been decimated by injuries in the last three seasons or so, Jenkins was their Cal Ripken Jr. Since joining the Eagles in 2014, he played in 6,754 of a possible 6,845 defensive snaps (98.7 percent). The last time he missed a play was the 2017 regular-season finale against Dallas, when coach Doug Pederson opted to rest most of his starters in preparation for their Super Bowl run.
And don’t forget he also contributed on special teams, playing 933 snaps in that phase.
And unlike some other players on the north side of 30, Jenkins has shown no signs of slowing down. He led the team in tackles for the third straight year in 2019 with 81 stops and also tied his career-high with 2.5 sacks.
But Jenkins’ value extended well beyond the statistics.
While the Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz shuffled defensive backs like a poker dealer, Jenkins was the ace up his sleeve.
The 32-year-old has been the rock in the secondary, providing leadership and guidance for younger, less-experienced and quite frankly less talented defensive backs.
He was also not afraid to tackle tough social issues.
Jenkins, who grew up in Piscataway, has long been a strong advocate for social justice and has always been willing to stand behind his beliefs, even if it sometimes meant taking an unpopular stance. Some fans were upset with his decision to raise a gloved fist during the national anthem during parts of the 2017 and 2018 seasons, though he was always quick to point out that the gesture had nothing to do with a lack of respect for law enforcement or the military.
“When it comes to social justice, and the issues that plague our country, I wanted my contribution to be more than just social media and hashtags and retweets,” Jenkins told the team’s web site in December. “I wanted to really become part of the solution and use my influence and leverage to really make some change.”
Jenkins was due to make $7.6 million in base salary in 2020, but made it clear that he thought he deserved a new contract. He was ranked 10th among average salaries for safeties, well behind Tennessee’s Kevin Byard, Kansas City’s Tyran Matthieu and Washington’s Landon Collins, who all average $14 million.
The Eagles’ decision to let him leave might be easier to understand if they had a young, promising safety to fill the void.
They decided to re-sign safety Rodney McLeod to a two-year deal Tuesday and also brought back cornerback Jalen Mills for one year, but that’s not nearly enough.
According to ESPN, Mills is said to be willing to move to safety.
I happen to think Mills is a better cornerback than some others, but to think he can possibly replace Jenkins is outlandish.
The Eagles’ front office made this mistake once before, when President Joe Banner and Coach Andy Reid let safety Brian Dawkins walk after 13 seasons as an Eagle following the 2008 season. Dawkins went on to win a Super Bowl with Denver while the Eagles’ secondary fell apart.
Until they brought in Malcolm Jenkins.
The Eagles tried to soften the move with another one of those video tributes on their web site, a sappy collection of his highlights featuring voice-overs by Eagles play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese.
Jenkins isn’t the legend and hero that Dawkins was, but he was still a valued member of the team and community.
They just made a huge mistake that can’t be couched with a feel-good video.