On Malcolm Jenkins' final Friday of freedom before the slog of an NFL season commenced, he went to the team facility. Jenkins hosted West Philadelphia middle-school students from a camp his foundation funds, organizing a day that showed the campers how the Eagles use science and technology in their preparation.
From there, he headed across town for the opening of a Papa John's franchise that Jenkins helped start on West Girard Avenue. He passed Washington Square, where he launched a custom suit shop, Damari Savile, in June. Friday's activities came after Jenkins returned from Los Angeles for an appearance at the ESPYs, and in the same week he was recognized in Sports Illustrated as one of the 50 most fashionable athletes.
This concluded a hectic offseason in which Jenkins barely went a day without a cause to support, a meeting or event to attend, or an interview to give. A review of Jenkins' calendar since last season ended revealed more than 70 engagements around the country. And they did not include the Eagles' offseason program or the training required of a professional athlete.
"It seems my offseason has become the busy season," Jenkins said, "and football is the easy part."
Jenkins built a team around him to help with off-field obligations. The team is especially needed during football season, when Jenkins turns his attention to the game. But Jenkins, 29, is also aware that his years in the NFL are coming to an end. His work away from football isn't meant to just help him now; it's what Jenkins expects to be his lasting legacy.
He has won a Super Bowl, reached a Pro Bowl, and earned a contract that made him one of the NFL's highest-paid safeties. He has also become one of the more recognizable athletes in Philadelphia. Entering his ninth NFL season, he's trying to enjoy what's left while also preparing for what's next. His interests stretch beyond autumn Sunday afternoons, but he knows the NFL and Philadelphia offer the platform to help satisfy those interests.
"When I got here, all I really had was an online bow-tie company and a foundation," Jenkins said. "Now, it's totally different."
‘It’s still growing’
Jenkins' community involvement and businesses started during the first five seasons of his career with the New Orleans Saints, but they accelerated in 2014. The Saints didn't want to re-sign Jenkins, a humbling development that showed him the fragility of an NFL career. He joined the Eagles that March, bringing him to a high-profile media market and within driving distance of his native Piscataway, N.J..
It also started his best three-season stretch on the field, coming as Jenkins matured in his mid-to-late 20s.
"It's a place I've really been able to grow my brand as an athlete, my sphere of influence, my ability to get involved in the community on a real level when it comes to business leaders, politicians, be able to get involved with the inner workings of the city," Jenkins said of Philadelphia. "The crazy part about it is it's still growing. I'm getting to meet a lot of movers and shakers in this city, a lot of influence, and finding different ways to leverage what I have now – my celebrity, my influence – to help me accomplish some of the goals I have, some of the dreams I have."
The past seven months offer evidence. He joined a conference call in January with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey to discuss how to collaborate for criminal justice reform. In February, he gave the keynote address at a University of Pennsylvania Law School symposium exploring hate speech and the First Amendment. In March, he visited inmates at Graterford Prison in Schwenksville, Pa. He also met with legislators in Washington that month along with three other players. In April, Jenkins sat on an Ohio State panel to discuss the role athletes play in social change. When the Philadelphia district attorney race approached in May, Jenkins filmed a public-service announcement on behalf of the ACLU to encourage voting.
Fans witnessed Jenkins holding his hand in the air during the national anthem last season. What followed was a heightened sense of social activism and joining a player coalition, adding substance to the spectacle.
These events did not include Jenkins' foundation responsibilities, from $101,000 in scholarships, to a free football camp in Piscataway, to outreach efforts in Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Columbus, Ohio. He is also on the foundation board of the Community College of Philadelphia.
Then there are the Jenkins businesses – the custom suit shop and pizza franchise are his latest forays, following the Rock Avenue Bow Ties brand that he brought to Philadelphia – and the media appearances, which ranged from Bravo to NFL Network.
After returning from a vacation to Disney World with his wife and daughter earlier this month, Jenkins faced an "enormous" stack of responsibilities. His preferred method of communicating is text messaging, but he usually faces a demand for face-to-face meetings. Jenkins obliges, understanding this isn't just the lifestyle he has invited – it's also the one that will sustain him.
"I realize at the age of 29, going into my ninth season, it might not be next year or the year after, but I'm closer to the end than I am the beginning," Jenkins said. "So just starting to prepare for it and seeing what opportunities are out there now that I can manage."
‘It’s everything that comes with it’
Jenkins wants to play 10 NFL seasons. That would bring him through 2018. Then , he said, he'll evaluate each year as it comes.
He didn't read this past week's New York Times report that revealed that the brains of 110 of 111 deceased NFL players had CTE, a degenerative disease caused by repeated blows to the head. Jenkins said he already knows the conclusion. He considers the risk of playing football and acknowledges there could be long-term ramifications.
"It's something I love to do," Jenkins said. "I know a lot of people who have jobs that they hate. I'm able to do something that I love, that provides for my family, that allows me to give back to the community, that gives me a platform to make change. It's more than just a paycheck. It's more than just the reward of playing on Sundays. It's everything that comes with it. All good things come with a cost. I understand the cost. And once the cost comes too high, I'll gracefully bow out."
That also creates urgency for his Eagles career. He signed with the team following a playoff appearance, thinking it was on the rise. He hasn't played in the postseason since, and is now on his second coach and with his fourth starting quarterback. The Eagles' front office is building long-term around quarterback Carson Wentz, but few of the players Jenkins has teamed with in Philadelphia will be on the team when Wentz hits his prime. Jenkins isn't even assured to be here that long, even if his $35 million contract stretches through 2020.
That's why Jenkins is adamant that he's not part of a rebuilding effort. He wants to win this season, and he expects to. He said that the Eagles "can match up with any team" in the NFC East. That would put the Eagles in playoff contention.
"Every year, you have to push it as far as you can go," Jenkins said. "We'd shortchange ourselves if we thought this would be a rebuilding year."
So Jenkins reported to camp this past week ready for Year No. 9. His schedule actually slows down now that his day job begins in earnest. He is one of the faces of the franchise, but his opportunities have never been so vast away from the NFL. He's not retiring anytime soon, but while the window begins closing on his career, it's opening away from it. That's how he designed it.
"At the end of the day, when I'm done playing, I don't want my entire life's work to be what I've done on the field," Jenkins said. "Because there's always going to be somebody that's going to be more after me, and then you're forgotten. So I want to build a legacy that will last, and I want to see the fruits of the labor."