The Eagles announced that they have released safety Malcolm Jenkins.
Jenkins was under contract with the Eagles for one more season at $7.6 million, but the team declined the option for 2020 and granted his release. Two months ago, the 32-year old made it clear after the season that he wouldn’t return without an extension.
“I won’t be back under the same deal,” Jenkins said Jan. 6. “That won’t happen.”
The Eagles will eat approximately $6.1 million by releasing Jenkins, but they’ll also save around $4.8 million against the salary cap. Of bigger concern is what they’ll do to replace the versatile safety and one of their long-time leaders.
“Malcolm Jenkins has been an outstanding player for us and and we are proud of everything he accomplished both on and off 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 our city.
"After thorough discussion with Malcolm and his agent, Ben Dogra, both sides agreed on the difficult decision to turn the page on what was an incredible six-year relationship. We wish Malcolm and his family all the best as he pursues his next opportunity.”
Dogra wasn’t available for comment. Jenkins released a statement on social media that he titled, “Dear Philly.”
“I’m usually a man with a lot to say,” Jenkins said. "I take pride in my ability to articulate my thoughts and feelings. But ... today the words are escaping me. There are too many people to thank and too many great memories to single anyone out in particular.
“I can only say, I’m grateful to Mr. Lurie for the opportunity to represent the city. I thank my teammates for making me better every single day. I thank the warriors in this community that fight for a better Philadelphia. And I thank the fan base for embracing me as your own.
“I hope that I am leaving having given more than I have received. That has always been my mission and I hope I represented you all well. Also, this is my home so I’m sure you’ll see me around. So this is not goodbye, but I’ll see you later.”
Jenkins and Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles owner, had developed a close bond during his tenure here. The absence of coach Doug Pederson, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and general manager Howie Roseman in the statement is noteworthy, if not on purpose.
Roseman had tried to trade Jenkins, per NFL sources, but there should be multiple suitors for the three-time Pro Bowl safety once he hits the market.
The Eagles have already begun the process of replacing Jenkins and addressing the safety position. They re-signed Rodney McLeod, Jenkins’ starting counterpart over the previous four seasons, to a two-year, $12 million contract. And they bought back Jalen Mills on a one-year deal with plans to move him from cornerback to safety.
McLeod, who turns 30 in June, didn’t miss a game last year after suffering an early-season knee injury in 2018. Mills had played some safety in college at LSU, but has played exclusively at corner in the NFL.
Safeties Rudy Ford and Marcus Epps are also on the roster. Cornerback Avonte Maddox played some safety two seasons ago and could also factor into the team’s plans there for 2020.
It’s possible the Eagles add another safety to the mix. The market is relatively light. Most of the top safeties who were eligible for free agency have been retained by their own teams. The Broncos and the Vikings placed franchise tags on Justin Simmons and Anthony Harris, respectively. The Patriots and 49ers re-signed Devin McCourty and Jimmie Ward.
The Texans reportedly agreed to a three-year, $20.25 million deal with former Browns safety Eric Murray. Vonn Bell, HaHa Clinton-Dix, Damarius Randall, Sean Davis, and Tre Boston are potential free-agent options.
The Eagles appear committed to getting younger. In January, two days after Jenkins stated his case, Roseman said that the roster needed some young blood. They’ve already announced they will let 38-year-old tackle Jason Peters enter free agency.
Jenkins, who turned 32 on Dec. 20, will be difficult to replace on the field and off. He led the team in tackles in five of his six seasons in Philadelphia. But numbers don’t tell the full story of his worth.
Jenkins played as many as five positions on defense. While it could be argued that he had lost some speed in recent years, his football acumen often gave him a step on offenses. He also made the pre-snap coverage calls and had been a team captain since Doug Pederson became coach in 2016.
Jenkins didn’t miss a game since signing with the Eagles as a free agent in 2014 and missed only 91 snaps out of a possible 6,936 over that span, including the playoffs. He’s played in three of the last five Pro Bowls and was instrumental in the Eagles winning their first Super Bowl in January of 2018.
Jenkins signed a four-year, $35 million extension with the Eagles in February 2016. But he skipped Eagles voluntary workouts last spring partly because he was unhappy with his contract. He confirmed, after reporting for mandatory minicamp in June, that he wanted a new deal.
“I feel like I’ve outplayed that contract,” he said then.
The safety market had shifted dramatically since Jenkins signed his last deal with the four highest-paid safeties – the Titans’ Kevin Byard, the Chiefs’ Tyrann Mathieu, the Redskins’ Landon Collins, and the Ravens’ Earl Thomas -- signing contracts last offseason.
Jenkins was the 14th highest-paid safety, in terms of yearly salary, by the end of last season.
Despite his dissatisfaction, Jenkins reported for training camp in July and didn’t miss a practice or game snap the entire season. The Eagles had told him in June, before he reported for minicamp, that they would begin negotiations toward a new deal during that season, but talks never occurred, sources close to the situation said.
The Eagles and Jenkins’ agents didn’t meet at the NFL combine to discuss a possible new contract. The two sides eventually agreed to part with the team granting his release Tuesday.
“I’ve reached a point where I’ve done what I can,” Jenkins said in January. “At this point, it’s up to my agent and management. I let my soul bleed every time I touch the field. I sacrifice myself. Do whatever I’m asked to do, so I’m content with doing my part. The rest will just fall where it does.”
Jenkins, who spent his first five NFL seasons with the Saints, had become a controversial figure off the field for his social activism. He protested racial injustice by raising his fist during the national anthem before games in 2017, had gone to Capitol Hill and Harrisburg to meet with legislators about the criminal justice system, and had penned editorials about holding law enforcement more accountable.
He drew a rebuke from Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby when he wrote in The Inquirer last year that Mayor Kenney should listen to the inner-city community before hiring the next police commissioner.
Lurie had publicly supported Jenkins and his causes. But the safety’s performance in between the lines and leadership in the locker room is what propelled Lurie to meet with Jenkins during his quasi-holdout and help assuage that situation.
The owner regretted the departure of Brian Dawkins after the 2008 season and knowing that it took until Jenkins’ arrival to competently replace the Hall of Fame safety, didn’t want a repeat of how that situation was handled.