After a year-long dispute, with little movement from either side, veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins and the Eagles ultimately parted over an average salary increase of $525,000 and one additional guaranteed year at $8.125 million.
There was never an actual negotiation. The Eagles offered to “tweak” the remaining one-year, $7.6 million on Jenkins’ contract and he declined. The team did grant Jenkins’ desire to be released in March, and a day later he signed with New Orleans for four years, $32 million, with $16.25 million guaranteed.
Nine months later, on the week before Sunday’s Eagles-Saints game, the 32-year-old said his departure — at least from his perspective — was never about the money.
“I gave everything I had to the city, to the team,” Jenkins told reporters during a video news conference Wednesday. “Did everything the coaches asked me to do, did everything to make the players around me better, tried to put my best football out there. And it just wasn’t valued that much by those who make the decisions.
“For me, it was just more of a principle about respect. I really didn’t care what the money was. But I wanted to see what the respect factor was. And it wasn’t valued what I thought. And so decisions are made. And I ended up at a place that values what I bring.”
Considering the amount he ended up getting, in relative terms money likely had little to do with why Eagles general manager Howie Roseman decided not to meet Jenkins’ demands.
Yes, there were salary-cap implications, especially with quarterback Carson Wentz’s increasing contract. But Roseman still spent significantly elsewhere, signing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a three-year, $39 million deal, and cornerback Darius Slay to a three-year, $50.05 million extension.
At safety, the Eagles went cheaper. They re-signed Rodney McLeod to a two-year, $8.65 million deal and Jalen Mills to a one-year, $4 million deal with plans of moving him from corner to safety. Will Parks, since released, also signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract.
Jenkins hadn’t said much about the divorce until Wednesday. He published a parting letter to the Eagles and Philadelphia in the Players Tribune shortly after signing with the Saints in which he thanked his teammates and coaches, but only mentioned owner Jeffrey Lurie, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, and coach Doug Pederson by name.
Clearly, Jenkins views Roseman as the chief decision-maker behind his leaving.
“It’s a very tough decision,” Roseman said in March. “I have no doubt that he’s going to go somewhere and continue to play at a high level. But we’re in a position with our team, we’re going to have to lose some guys. We’ve seen it with teams in our division as well, having to lose guys. It’s just the nature of where we are.”
Splitting with Jenkins was a preemptive strike against repeating some of Roseman’s recent mistakes in keeping core players past their expiration dates. But he still brought back veterans like offensive lineman Jason Peters and defensive end Vinny Curry on one-year deals.
Roseman’s projection was that the loss of Jenkins wouldn’t notably weaken the safety position, and overall, the defense. And that his reallocation of the cap to defensive tackle (Hargrave) and cornerback (Slay) would strengthen Schwartz’s scheme where the Eagles have traditionally been willing to spend money.
Needless to say, Roseman made a miscalculation.
In March, a December meeting between the Eagles and Saints looked like a potential matchup between two of the top teams in the NFC. But while New Orleans — with the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense — is 10-2 and chugging along toward the postseason, the Eagles are 3-8-1 with only a hapless NFC East keeping their playoff hopes alive.
There have been many reasons for the Eagles’ descent. And most of their issues have been on offense. But there have also been defensive struggles, particularly early in the season, and seemingly accountability problems that Jenkins could have alleviated.
“He was just that player that always did the right thing,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “He was really good at weathering any storm. Always remained calm. He knew when to turn it up and when to give his fellow teammates confidence.
“I’ve thought about a lot over the years of all the great players I’ve coached, and Malcolm goes right up there. He’s probably the smartest player I ever coached, and leadership-wise you take all those players, if he was on that he would probably be elected team captain.”
Schwartz gave a 500-word testimonial on Jenkins and their their four seasons together. It was hard to listen to his praise and wonder why the Eagles ever let Jenkins get away. Schwartz has had a lot of personnel sway, but this was obviously one player he couldn’t protect.
He spoke of Jenkins’ versatility and how, not only could he play seven positions, he knew where all 11 players needed to be on any given play. He said that while most players may make one or two mistakes a game, Jenkins might make one a season.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been around a smarter player,” Schwartz said. “About the only time I’ve ever had in my career — we were playing Seattle last year — he heard the offensive line say something about a look that we had, and it’s the only time I remember him doing this in four years.
“He came to the sideline and said, ‘Schwartz, next third down, call this. I guarantee we’re going to get a sack.’”
Schwartz made the call and the Eagles notched a sack.
“It was all just because of what he heard,” Schwartz said. “He heard the offensive line talking about, ‘Hey, next time we get this look, this is what we have to do.’ That is rare in a player. That’s rare that a player, No. 1, can understand what the offense is doing so well and can decipher things like that.”
Jenkins had some early struggles with the Saints this season, but his statistics have been relatively the same as they were in Philly. But his value, as Schwartz explained, couldn’t be measured in numbers. He was often responsible for the calls, lining players up, and checking to other plays to counter an offense.
The Eagles missed many assignments in the early portion of the season. While Slay started strong, his performance didn’t offset the holes at other spots, particularly in the middle of the field at linebacker, safety, and slot.
Schwartz’s defense settled down in the second half of the season with McLeod and Mills splitting most of Jenkins’ former responsibilities. But there have been recent breakdowns, as well. The Eagles previously had lulls with Jenkins, but the final stretch was typically when the unit would get on a roll.
Jenkins was often the glue, particularly in the secondary when injuries mounted over the years. He played in every game over six years, and missed only two out of 6,939 defensive snaps because of injury. He also played special teams. And he might have missed only a handful of practices.
He was the Eagles’ most prominent leader both vocally and by example, as evidenced by Schwartz’s comments.
“That’s respect on the highest level,” Jenkins said. “That’s a coach that is not only respected by me but is respected around this league. He knows about football, has coached a lot of great players. So to hear that from a coach that you played for — that’s why you play the game. … I didn’t take that lightly.”
Jenkins isn’t likely to take returning to the Linc to face the Eagles lightly, either.
“I love that city. I call it home in the offseasons,” Jenkins said. “I gave of myself everything I got into that community, invested a lot into that community, and it’s given the same love back to me. So that city holds a special place in my heart.”