Eagles must make Malcolm Jenkins a priority

Eliot Shorr-Parks
February 18, 2020 - 7:59 am
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Speaking to the media prior to the start of the 2018 season, Eagles safety coach Tim Hauck didn’t hold back when discussing how important safety Malcolm Jenkins was to the team, saying they would basically have to change everything they did on defense if Jenkins went down with an injury. 

Thankfully, Hauck’s doomsday scenario has never been put to the test. Jenkins has played roughly 99% of the team’s snaps over the last five seasons. A team that has lost almost every meaningful starter over the last two seasons has not had to experience life without Jenkins on the field. 

Heading into the 2020 season, however, the Eagles are in danger of facing that reality if they don’t give Jenkins a new contract. As the Eagles make a number of important decisions this offseason, the question will be asked how much they can afford to pay Jenkins. 

The real question is whether they can afford not to.

Last season, Jenkins played nine different positions over 1,015 snaps for the Eagles. He lined up in the box, at slot corner, at free safety, all over special teams and even registered some snaps that qualified as being along the defensive line, according to Pro Football Focus. 

To put into perspective just how versatile Jenkins was to the Eagles, he played 266 snaps at cornerback last season. No actual cornerback played more than 372 in coverage, meaning Jenkins — the team’s starting safety — played almost as much at cornerback as the team’s actual cornerbacks did while also playing safety. Only three safeties and 32 cornerbacks in the entire NFL spent more time in the slot than Jenkins did. 

Despite the constant change in roles, Jenkins’ production has remained amazingly consistent. Take a look at the what Jenkins gave the Eagles in his first season with the team compared to what he did in 2019: 

Jenkins, 27-years old, first year with Eagles: 80 total tackles, 3 interceptions, 3 tackles for a loss, 1 forced fumble, 15 pass deflections, 0 sacks 

Jenkins, 32-years old, sixth-year with Eagles: 80 total tackles, 0 interceptions, 6 tackles for a loss, 4 forced fumbles, 8 pass deflections, 2.5 sacks 

In 100 fewer snaps in 2019 than he played in 2014, Jenkins totaled the same amount of tackles, more tackles for a loss, more sacks and created the same amount of turnovers. He did all of that while not only playing a number of different roles each week on defense, but playing 26% of special teams snaps as well. (Which by the way, is an absurd thing for the Eagles to ask Jenkins to do, and the fact he has done it without hesitation really speaks to how the team has taken advantage of and benefited from his professionalism over the last season) 

On a roster with so few sure things Jenkins is arguably the team’s most dependable and most versatile player. That isn’t hyperbole — that is what the stats show from the last few seasons. 

What makes the potential loss of Jenkins so dangerous for the Eagles is the complete lack of options they have on the roster to replace him. There is no quality backup, no intriguing young talent or no high-draft pick (as of now) to potentially fill the crucial role Jenkins plays. 

If the Eagles don’t pay Jenkins, they will lose him and have to find a replacement either in the NFL Draft or free agency. Asking any rookie to do what Jenkins does for the Eagles next season is unrealistic, so that option can basically be crossed off the list. 

That leaves free agency. Any significant addition is going to cost the Eagles a significant amount of money, so it is hard to imagine the Eagles will save money and also add a better player than Jenkins. That new player, even if it is the best safety on the market, would come to the roster as a question mark considering he will have likely never played in the system and will be learning the complex role Jenkins plays.  

What it will cost to keep Jenkins isn’t completely clear, given his age, importance to the roster and current contract situation. But at 32-years old, there are a few comparable deals for Jenkins. 

Baltimore Ravens safety Earl Thomas, at 31-years old, is making $13 million a year on a four-year deal worth $55 million. Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson will be making $11 million next season at 32-years old, which is what his three-year deal averages out to. Miami Dolphins safety Reshad Jones— 31-years old — has an average salary of $12 million with $20 million guaranteed in his deal. 

A comparison in terms of versatility, but not age, is 27-year old Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs. Mathieu has an average salary of $14 million with $26 million guaranteed, and will mill make $27.2M between 2019 and 2020. 

Here is how Jenkins’ 2019 season stacks up with the above four safeties — Mathieu, Jackson, Thomas and Jones:

Snaps: 2nd

Tackles: 2nd

Tackles for a loss: 1st

Forced Fumbles: 1st

QB Hits: 1st

Interceptions: 5th

As you can see, Jenkins is either first-or-second in each of those six categories. Although comparing each in coverage is tough given all of their various responsibilities, of the safeties listed above, only Thomas was graded out with a better 2019 season than Jenkins by Pro Football Focus. 

The only major difference between Jenkins and those four other safeties? His salary. Jenkins base salary in 2020 is $7.6 million, considerably less than each of the four safeties listed above. 

Which brings us back to the where the Eagles and Jenkins currently find themselves today. 

Jenkins wants and deserves a new deal. He has already played nice for one year, and rightfully so, won’t do it again. Howie Roseman and the Eagles once again ignored the safety position in the draft and free agency, despite knowing this was coming, leaving no real option to replace him. 

Now, the Eagles can’t afford to not pay Jenkins. They have to give him a fair deal and likely won’t be getting any benefit of a home team discount. There will be risk involved, considering his age, but the team — not Jenkins — is to blame for that. They put themselves in this situation. 

The good news is they have roughly $40 million in cap space to get a deal down.  Letting this drag out, and turning it into an ugly situation, would be a major misstep by Roseman and the Eagles. 

They have taken care of numerous veterans over the last year, handing out multiple contract extensions. Now it is time to prioritize Jenkins and make sure he is happy and ready for the 2020 season. 

You can reach Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks or email him at esp@94wip.com!

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