About a week or so before the start of minicamp, Malcolm Jenkins drove to the NovaCare Complex for the first time in months and met with Jeffrey Lurie.
Jenkins had skipped all of the Eagles’ offseason program and concern was increasing that he would hold out over his contract situation when practices became mandatory. Conversations between the safety’s agents and the front office were virtually at a standstill, and to nudge the needle the Eagles called their closer from the bullpen.
Lurie wasn’t brought in to finish a deal, however. The Eagles weren’t going to offer a restructuring to Jenkins’ liking, and it was up to the owner to do the explaining. Lurie has long had relationships with key players on his team, and his emotional intelligence has on occasion helped soothe bitterness that can swell over contracts.
He did so here, and Jenkins, despite various reports that he wouldn’t show last week, reported and put any concerns that he might miss training camp to rest.
“One of the reasons that I feel comfortable being here,” Jenkins said Tuesday, “is because of my relationship with Jeff Lurie and understanding that I do feel valued and respected.”
Jenkins declined to give specifics on what transpired during his meeting with Lurie, but he did confirm various aspects, and with help from sources close to the situation, a sharper picture emerged.
Lurie and Jenkins have developed a bond over the last five years, partly because of the latter’s social activism and work in the Philadelphia community, but mostly because of the former’s appreciations for the veteran’s contributions on the field and in the locker room.
The last time they had a safety of similar importance, and it was time to do business, the Eagles bungled it, and Brian Dawkins left. Lurie was sensitive to repeating the misstep, not only because of optics but also because the team had a significant void at the position until Jenkins arrived in 2014.
But as much as he wanted to appease one of his leaders, Lurie had to make it clear to Jenkins why he wasn’t a priority.
The Eagles were close to coming to terms on a mega-extension with quarterback Carson Wentz. But even when that box was checked off, others would take precedence.
If the team was to rework Jenkins’ contract, other players would justifiably follow and knock on general manager Howie Roseman’s door, Lurie explained to Jenkins.
“Probably two,” Jenkins said of the players.
It doesn’t take much accounting to figure out that tackle Lane Johnson and tight end Zach Ertz are next on the list. Johnson and Ertz signed five-year extensions in 2016 that have them under contract through 2021.
Like Jenkins, they’ve been instrumental to the Eagles’ recent success, they’ve played in Pro Bowls, and they’ve been durable. But they’re younger by nearly three years than the 31-year-old Jenkins, they’re homegrown, and they play positions that teams have historically valued more.
“I think it has a big effect, which I understand,” Jenkins said. “Once a precedent is set, that’s what everybody wants. But for me, that’s not my problem.”
Lurie, nevertheless, was able to get Jenkins to attend minicamp. It’s unlikely he made any promises, but Jenkins said that negotiations “are still ongoing.” Maybe the Eagles will make an offer that places him among the five highest-paid safeties – he’s currently ninth on a per-year basis – but Jenkins no longer has any leverage.
He would have forfeited only around $80,000 had he missed minicamp. But the penalties would only increase – around $50,000 a day – in training camp. If he went so far as to miss time during the regular season, he would lose about $500,000 a game. And if he sat out the entire year, he’d sacrifice approximately $12.4 million.
“You run into a whole other list of issues where it gets contentious,” Jenkins said of holding out, “and it becomes one of those things where it’s really hard to function if you end up being here without a deal.”
When Jenkins signed a four-year, $35 million extension in 2017, he was among the highest-paid safeties in the NFL. The market changed, of course, over the next two years. But five free-agent safeties signed deals this offseason that surpassed his, with Tyrann Mathieu and Landon Collins receiving average yearly salaries ($14 million) that are 38 percent higher than Jenkins’ ($8.75 million).
While comparisons of production and talent can be subjective, what isn’t is age, and Mathieu (27) and Collins (25) are younger.
“The age is not that much,” Jenkins said. “You look at the last five years, it’s not like my play’s dropped any. The age part is relative, I understand that. But at the same time, it’s obviously enough that I know that, Howie and Mr. Lurie, they understand where the market is and why.”
Jenkins said that he doesn’t wish to be the highest-paid safety, he just wants to “be within the ballpark.” He likely has only one more opportunity to get a long-term contract with a large guarantee. It’s difficult to begrudge his stance given the way NFL contracts are structured.
The Eagles, for instance, reworked the contract of safety Rodney McLeod after he suffered an ACL injury last season. They trimmed his base salary from $7.5 to $4 million, although they voided the final year of his original contract so he could become a free agent next offseason.
“The way my contract was set up, it was coming to an end anyway when it came to guaranteed money,” McLeod said. “The fact that they did restructure the way they did, I was happy with it, satisfied, coming off the injury.”
Lurie was able to satisfy Jenkins in some way, although it may not ultimately be within the player’s best interest to agree to a restructuring now. Once he reported to minicamp, his fiscal calendar turned to next season.
Jenkins is under contract for 2020, but he would be one year closer to free agency and in theory closer to forcing the Eagles’ hand if they don’t meet his requests.