Malcolm Jenkins hasn’t been at Eagles workouts this offseason, and while they are “voluntary” – wink-wink, nudge-nudge – his absence is noteworthy because he is typically a ubiquitous presence at the NovaCare Complex.
Jenkins has been in Philadelphia, but he has chosen instead to work out at unspecified facilities and fields, sources close to the safety said.
It’s unclear why he has opted to stay away. Jenkins and his representation have declined to be interviewed. The Eagles don’t comment on players for missing non-mandatory training.
But his nonattendance does raise the question of whether Jenkins believes he has outperformed his contract and is looking for a restructuring. Even if that weren’t the case, it’s a topic worth exploring, especially after several comparable safeties signed unprecedented contracts this offseason.
The market has shifted significantly since Jenkins agreed to a four-year, $35 million extension three years ago. He is now the 10th-highest-paid safety in terms of total value, full guarantee, and the per-year average of his deal.
Even if there is an argument that his placement is accurate, Jenkins’ per-year salary ($8.75 million) is only 63 percent of the $14 million average for Landon Collins and Tyrann Mathieu after they signed six-year, $84 million and three-year, $42 million contracts, respectively, in March.
The Eagles would have a difficult time making the claim that Jenkins was worth a third less than the NFL’s top-paid safeties, even factoring in his age (31) compared with Collins (25) and Mathieu (26). Timing often factors into market value, and for whatever the reason, a number of prominent safeties hit free agency this offseason.
Aside from Collins and Mathieu, Earl Thomas (four years, $55 million), Lemarcus Joyner (four years, $42 million), and Adrian Amos (four years, $36 million) signed contracts larger than that of Jenkins.
In terms of positional versatility, Mathieu is his closest comp, and Jenkins in various non-subjective ways has outplayed his counterpart over the last two seasons.
Jenkins could have tested the market two years ago, but he chose to sign an extension. He was under no obligation, but he was considerably underpaid after signing a three-year, $15 million contract with the Eagles in 2014. Both sides stood to benefit, and they have.
The Eagles, though, aren’t typically in the business of adding new money to a contract, particularly only two years into a four-year deal. They don’t want to set precedents, but they have previously made exceptions.
Last year, for instance, the Eagles gave quarterback Nick Foles an additional $2 million signing bonus and included possible millions more in performance-based incentives. He may have been the reigning Super Bowl MVP and played a position of greater importance, but Foles was only a year into his original two-year deal.
The Eagles have restructured their share of contracts with only a year remaining, and in rare occasions more. But they have almost always received something in return, whether it’s additional years or salary cap relief.
In the case of defensive end Brandon Graham, however, what’s right was essentially the explanation given when the Eagles tweaked Graham’s contract two years in with performance escalators two years ago. His four-year deal came in free agency, rather than as an extension, but the team had little to gain with the restructuring.
If adding a little more incentive into Jenkins’ deal is all it takes, the Eagles would do more than just placate their Pro Bowl safety. They would further show they are willing to award exemplary foundational players. If it’s guaranteed money he wants, the Eagles could create salary cap space with Jenkins on the books for $11,387,000 and $10,887,000 in his last two years.
And even if it’s new money, has there been a defensive player as valuable to the team over the last five years? All-pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been, in terms of talent and production, above the rest. But Jenkins would likely be next.
His on-field responsibilities can’t be understated. Jenkins has played multiple positions, from strong and free safety, to slot and outside cornerback, to even linebacker, sometimes all within one game. He has set the defensive backfield and been the go-to veteran for one of the younger secondaries in the NFL.
His vocal leadership during the Eagles’ 2017 Super Bowl run is cemented in team lore. But the job he did last year with a secondary that was decimated by injury may have been the greatest testament to Jenkins’ value.
He may have had a blip following the November loss at the Saints. Jenkins sulked in the Superdome locker room as other leaders such as Chris Long stood up and addressed the team, and his questioning of effort two days later may have rubbed some teammates the wrong way. But he has always owned his actions and words.
He hasn’t missed a game in five seasons. He has missed only a handful of practices. And he’s often the last player in the building.
The Eagles can understandably point to his age as reason for balking at an extension, but there hasn’t been a more durable player on their roster and only Glover Quin has played in more consecutive games among NFL safeties.
Jenkins’ politics and outspokenness may rub some the wrong way, but the Eagles couldn’t ask for a better representative of their franchise away from football and nominated him for the 2017 Walter Payton man of the year award.
He has been voted into three of the last four Pro Bowls, although twice only after others ahead of him backed out. It’s a subjective enterprise, though, as is comparing players. The Eagles could value Jenkins in their scheme more than other teams might in theirs.
But statistically speaking, at least, he’s near the top among the 10 highest-paid safeties over the last five years. Jenkins is fourth in tackles, second in passes defensed, fourth in interceptions, first in forced fumbles, and fourth in tackles for loss per game.
It took the Eagles five years to find a suitable replacement for Brian Dawkins. Jenkins might not be quite in his class, but if he were to miss substantial time, there would likely be a drop-off.
The Eagles brought back Rodney McLeod at a reduced salary to start alongside Jenkins, but he is coming off ACL and MCL injuries. They also signed veterans Andrew Sendejo, Godwin Igwebuike, and Blake Countess, and have Tre Sullivan and Deiondre’ Hall still on the roster. If there’s a suitable candidate to sustain a possible loss it might be cornerback Avonte Maddox.
Jenkins would be difficult to replace as a team spokesman. In previous offseasons, he had been one of several leaders the Eagles have provided to reporters during the first few days of the spring program. But he wasn’t part of the group that spoke last month – Cox was the lone defensive representative.
If Jenkins is unhappy with his contract, he might not be shy about publicly saying so. If he doesn’t show for the start of organized team activities on May 21, though, that may speak volumes.