Last spring, when reporters got their first chance to ask Timmy Jernigan how he felt about the Eagles basically giving his starting defensive tackle spot to free-agent signee Malik Jackson, Jernigan said he embraced Jackson’s presence, and was looking forward to learning from him.
Asked what he thought when he first heard Jackson was signing for $30 million over three years, Jernigan said: “I don’t care. I believe in me. I believe in Timmy, straight up.”
Heading into Sunday night’s game at Atlanta, the Eagles organization is going to have to believe in Timmy, as well. The NFL Network reported Tuesday that, as feared, Jackson suffered a Lisfranc tear in his left foot late in the season-opening victory over Washington.
The report said Jackson would have surgery next week and would miss the rest of the season. A medical source confirmed that a Lisfranc injury serious enough to require surgery involves a long recovery period; cornerback Jalen Mills is still out from what is believed to be a Lisfranc injury, suffered last Oct. 28 against the Jaguars.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn’t directly confirm the report – the team wants head coach Doug Pederson to announce injury news, and Pederson won’t speak again until Wednesday – but Schwartz agreed that “we’ll probably be without him for a while.”
Later Tuesday, the team officially put Jackson on injured reserve and signed free agent defensive tackle Akeem Spence, formerly of the Dolphins. The Eagles also waived tight end Alex Ellis, probably with the intention of moving him back to the practice squad.
Spence, 27, played for the Bucs and Lions before the Dolphins. He started all 16 games last season, and was cut just before this season, in a salary-cap move. There was no opportunity to speak with Eagles coaches or players after the Spence move Tuesday evening.
“Malik’s an important part of what we do. We’ll certainly miss him,” said Schwartz, who added: “We’ve got plenty of guys that can step up and play … It doesn’t change our task from game-to-game, and it doesn’t change our task over the course of the year.”
Jernigan, who turns 27 on Sept. 24, was effective starting alongside Fletcher Cox during the Super Bowl season of 2017, after coming over from Baltimore. The Eagles were so pleased, they gave Jernigan a four-year, $48 million contract. But Jernigan suffered a serious neck disk injury during that offseason, and since it didn’t happen in training at NovaCare, the Eagles were able to negotiate a substantial reduction in the deal.
Jernigan was only healthy for three regular-season games plus the playoffs last season. This spring, the Eagles declined their option on the rest of his contract. After trying free agency, he came back for a bare-bones, one-year, $2 million Eagles pact.
“It was a tough year for Timmy last year,” Schwartz said Tuesday. “Coming back from an injury, working hard to get back on the field, that’s tough for any player. But he’s a good player. We saw that in the plays that he played on Sunday. We’re going to need him to get back to [his level when he was a starter], which I think he is. He made a lot of plays in training-camp practices … We have a lot of confidence in him, not just against the run but against the pass, also.”
Jernigan played 25 snaps Sunday, and managed the Eagles’ only sack of Washington quarterback Case Keenum.
“That sack that he had was a really, really well-executed stunt between him and Vinny [Curry],” Schwartz said.
Curry, 31, also figures into the Jackson replacement situation. In 2016 and 2017, he often moved inside on passing downs. At 6-foot-3, 279, he has the size and strength to handle defensive tackle work. Curry said Tuesday he hasn’t heard anything yet about the team’s plans, but he’s amenable.
“First, I just said a prayer for Malik,” Curry said, when asked his reaction. “Nothing really was discussed yet, but whatever they need me to do, best believe I’m going to be ready to do it. … It’s all about what Coach Schwartz wants, or Big Phil [defensive line coach Phillip Daniels].”
Curry, who often talks about how great it is to be back with the Eagles after a year in Tampa, added, “I had a great time out there this weekend,” playing 23 snaps.
Before the Spence signing, the only other defensive tackle on the roster besides Cox, Jackson, and Jernigan was Hassan Ridgeway, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Colts. Ridgeway played 24 snaps against Washington.
“Luckily for us, we’ve got depth. But it’s definitely going to be a loss there,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said, when asked about Jackson. “We got Timmy Jernigan, which is a blessing, and Hassan Ridgeway. So we’ve still got guys who can play.
“It’s unfortunate to lose a guy that we knew what he was able to do and how much he could help our defense.”
The Eagles had visions of supercharged interior pass rush pressure, with Cox and Jackson playing together. There were preseason questions about whether the pass rush off the edge would be as effective as last season, with Michael Bennett and Chris Long gone. Now Jackson goes onto the loss ledger as well.