Malcolm Jenkins’ uncharacteristic absence from the Eagles’ offseason program continued Tuesday when the Pro Bowl safety opted not to attend the first day of organized team activities.
Jenkins is likely to miss the next three weeks of voluntary practices and possibly mandatory minicamp from June 11-13 unless the Eagles rework his contract, sources close to the situation said.
The 31-year-old hasn’t publicly stated his demands, but he has had made his stance fairly clear with a series of game-film postings on Twitter over the last few weeks that have highlighted his on-field proficiency. Jenkins hasn’t responded to recent interview requests.
Coach Doug Pederson was asked before Tuesday’s practice whether the Eagles had received indications that Jenkins’ absence was contract-related.
“I’m not going to get into any kind of personal conversations that we’ve had,” Pederson said. “It is a voluntary program, and Malcolm is one of those guys, leader of the football team, and not concerned with him. We’re going to keep our focus on the guys that are here and get better today.”
Jenkins signed a four-year, $35 million extension in February 2017. While he stands to earn $8.1 million and $7.6 million in base salary over the final two years of the deal, almost none of that money is guaranteed. He is also now the 10th highest-paid safety in the NFL, on a per-year basis ($8.75 million), after several free agents received high-paying contracts earlier this offseason.
Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu set the bar with deals that average $14 million a year. They are 25 and 27, respectively, but the 30-year-old Earl Thomas netted a contract that averages $13.75 million. Even if an argument can be made that Jenkins isn’t in their class, he is seemingly underpaid by comparison.
The Eagles, however, aren’t typically accustomed to restructuring long-term contracts after just two years, especially for players north of 30. They have made exceptions. Two years ago, senior executive Howie Roseman added incentives to defensive end Brandon Graham’s deal after two years.
Graham, now 31, hit some of those escalators and in February re-signed with the Eagles for three years, $40 million.
“He’s a big part of this team and you only have so long to do it,” Graham said of Jenkins. “Handle your business, my brother. And he’s handling his business because he’s a key part of this team. He brought us a Super Bowl. He had some big plays during that year, well, every year.
“I’m sure Howie’s going to figure it out.”
The Eagles have about $28 million in salary-cap space. A mega-extension is likely on the table for Carson Wentz, and even if the quarterback were to be locked down long term, it shouldn’t have any bearing on giving Jenkins more money.
The Eagles have had conversations with his camp, but there haven’t been negotiations. Teams will often draw a line on restructures to keep from setting precedents. But it’s unlikely that other Eagles will line up at Roseman’s door if Jenkins were to receive a new deal.
“I just want him to be taken care of, because, when he’s here, he’s here,” Graham said. “Every day, he takes care of his body. When he’s out there, you know he’s going 100 miles [per hour]. Stuff that normal vets don’t do, he do.
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“You want a guy like that, because you’re showing the younger guys that this guy who’s had a hell of a career and he’s not complaining, so why are you complaining?”
Jenkins’ stats compared with those of other top-paid safeties support the notion that he’s among the best at his position. But the numbers don’t come close to defining his worth. Jenkins is one of the most versatile defenders in the NFL. He’s the quarterback of the secondary. He’s a leader on and off the field. And he even plays on special teams, as he pointed out in a tweet.
“Any time you touch the field you have an opportunity to impact the game,” Jenkins wrote alongside video of several standout special-teams plays. “I’ve played special teams from day 1 to year 10!”
Last season, the Eagles secondary was decimated by injury. Avonte Maddox, who had to play cornerback, slot, and safety, credited Jenkins, who hasn’t missed a game in five seasons, with helping him through his rookie season and with keeping the unit together.
“I don’t know about the outside, but I know in here, we all know what he does,” Maddox said. “That’s one thing I say every day: ‘This dude knows every spot, every position, every call.’”
Maddox said that Jenkins’ absence has been felt this spring.
“Just knowing that extra voice out there,” he said, “you don’t have it.”
Missing time during non-contact drills, especially for an 11-year veteran, isn’t necessarily a big deal. No one expects Jenkins not to be ready when/if he finally returns. He has been working out locally in Philadelphia, a source said.
“These guys are pros,” Pederson said. “They understand their bodies; they understand that when they are here, that they’re ready to play and ready to go.”
And Jenkins’ absence has given others an opportunity, as Maddox said. With fellow starter Rodney McLeod still recovering from October’s season-ending knee injury, the Eagles’ first-team safeties Tuesday were Tre Sullivan and the newly acquired Andrew Sendejo.
Every player is replaceable. But the Eagles don’t appear to have anyone on the roster who can step in immediately and contribute as much as Jenkins. Players seldom have leverage in holdout situations, and it remains to be seen how far Jenkins is willing to go and how much he wants.
Respect may be what he wants more than anything.
But the feeling here is that the Eagles will eventually compensate Jenkins. They have too much riding on this season to get into an extended dispute with one of their leaders and best players.