This is not how Timmy Jernigan thought his career was going to go, when Jernigan signed a four-year, $48 million Eagles contract extension during the 2017 Super Bowl season, as a reward for his work complementing Fletcher Cox at defensive tackle.
“I see things a lot different; my eyes are open. I’m not walkin’ around with a blindfold on no more. But we’re good. It’s all love,” Jernigan said Tuesday, after the first day of full-squad organized team activities at NovaCare.
Jernigan was briefly an ex-Eagle this offseason, when the team declined the 2019 option on his already-discounted contract. That original $48 million deal turned out to be worth about $14 million; Jernigan suffered a still-mysterious herniated disk in his neck last spring that ultimately would sideline him for 13 games in 2018, and as soon as the injury was diagnosed, the Eagles gave him the option of being released or taking a lot less money, for a shorter term. That term ended up being one year.
Then, last month, seeking defensive line depth, the Eagles brought Jernigan back for a bare-bones $2 million guaranteed, with a chance to make as much as $3 million, on a one-year deal. Lacking appealing options, he agreed.
Jernigan returns as a projected reserve. The Eagles gave Jacksonville’s Malik Jackson a three-year, $30 million free agent contract this year, with $17 million guaranteed, to play next to Cox. But there will still be snaps to be won in Jim Schwartz’s rotation, Jernigan competing with Treyvon Hester and Bruce Hector, assuming he doesn’t outpace Jackson.
The competing part, Jernigan seems fine with; his problem seems to be the disrespect of being released, and then having to come back here on a cut-rate deal, because teams are leery of a d-tackle coming off a neck-disk injury.
Jernigan’s tone Tuesday was brisk. Maybe even pungent.
How does he feel about the roster roulette?
“It don’t matter. I’m here. Next question,” said Jernigan, who is still just 26, five years after being drafted in the second round by the Ravens. “I don’t care. I believe in me. I believe in Timmy, straight up. … I hope nobody takes that the wrong way.”
Did he think he was done as an Eagle, when the team declined his option?
“Everybody in the world did, but I’m here,” he said. “Let’s talk about right now. … You’ll see in September, when I’m on the field – you’ll see how I approach it.
“I’m gonna hold my own. Everybody on this team, every coach, everybody who has anything to do with the organization, whoever watched me play, they know when I’m healthy, they know how I’m comin.’ ”
Does he feel he has something to prove?
“It is what it is. I’d rather talk about that more when the season’s over,” Jernigan said. “You can ask Howie [Roseman] about that [contract] stuff. I don’t really want to talk about it. You’ll see in September.”
Jernigan didn’t accomplish much after being activated from the non-football injury list last Nov. 20. He suggested Tuesday that he came back before he was really fit, with the team in a desperate struggle to make the playoffs.
Still listed at his usual 6-2, 295, Jernigan said he lost “15 pounds of body fat” this offseason. He looked paunchy last year.
“Last year I was back on the field after working out just six times – I lifted weights just six times. I ran [for conditioning] on the field two times, and I was back [practicing and playing],” he said. “I ain’t gotta say nothin’ else. … It speaks for itself. … You’ll see the difference in September. Ask any coach, ask any player what Timmy Jernigan can look like. I ain’t gotta brag on myself. Ask them. I ain’t gotta say one word.”
In January, before the Eagles’ playoff loss at New Orleans, Schwartz said that Jernigan “means something to our spirit. He’s a guy that has a little bit of a contagious energy. You just see him out on the field – he brings a confidence. He brings a toughness. He has made some big plays for us.”
Asked about that on Tuesday, Jernigan said: “I’m going to give this team everything I got. Everything I got … That’s just who I am as a player, and if that comes off as ‘he’s the spirit of the defense,’ or whatever, then OK, I accept that. I had to go through some stuff, you know what I’m sayin’? But I’m comfortable and I’m happy about the way I came out on the other side.”
A reporter reminded Jernigan that he still hasn’t explained how he herniated that disk.
“I won’t,” he said. “Next question.”
(This might be the place to observe that Jernigan’s agent is, indeed, Drew Rosenhaus.)
Last year, a source with knowledge of the situation said that Jernigan called the Eagles one day, saying he was in Florida and had awakened with excruciating pain in his neck and arm. An MRI showed a significantly herniated cervical disk.
In April 2018, Jernigan underwent a cervical fusion, which would allow him to play again, after a long rehab, but also would increase his chances of herniating the disk right above or below the fusion. The source said another herniation could be a career-ender.
That was why the Eagles were ready to move on to Jackson, even as Jernigan returned to full health this offseason, and why no other team leapt at the chance to sign him.
Jernigan said Jackson will make the defense better, so Jernigan is glad he’s here.
“We’re better together. … I embrace Malik. I think he’s a hell of a player. I’m looking forward to learning from him the things I can learn from him, and whatever I can do to make me a better player and help the team and play my role,” Jernigan said. “I ain’t overstepping no boundaries. Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it. I’m going to keep it moving.
“We’re gonna compete, man. That’s what I love about this defensive line. … Everybody goes at it, and I think that’s what makes us better, that’s what makes us special as a unit.”