Making Sense Of Jenkins Departure
The second day of 2020 NFL free agency will be more remembered by Eagles fans for a loss than any gain. Jalen Mills and Rodney McLeod are both back, news met with a collective yawn from the fan base. Mills will be jockeyed around from corner to safety, which means his days starting on the outside are likely over, which ordinarily is reason to be optimistic. McLeod took a pay cut last year coming off surgery, showed he still had some gas in the tank and returns on a 2-year deal. Still, not the Earth-shattering addition to the secondary that fans covet.
(Malcolm Jenkins made three Pro Bowls in six seasons for the Eagles after signing a modest free-agent deal in 2014).
Then came the announcement that Malcolm Jenkins’ option wouldn’t be picked up. The Eagles would be moving on. Just like that, Jenkins would be cast into frenetic world of unemployment. Jenkins, 32, is on the market for the first time since the Eagles signed him to a modest free-agent deal in 2014, while most fans were kicking and screaming for Jairus Byrd.
Those still haunted by the visceral heartbreak of 2008 when the Eagles pointed Brian Dawkins toward the exit were delivered another stiff kick in the midsection. Nobody has reached Dawkins status in Philadelphia, but Jenkins has probably come closest. Serving as the front man for the team’s 2017 Super Bowl run and delivering the famous “We all we got, we all we need” rally cry after the Carson Wentz knee blowout elevated Jenkins into rarified air. Maybe his politics ticked some people off, but even during this time when any opinion is deemed divisive and polarizing, Jenkins' activism appeared to only expand his bandwagon. It’s impossible in the quick aftermath to really process what Jenkins’ departure means for the franchise. Too many questions remain unanswered. Did Jenkins really ask for $14 million, as one report suggested? How hard did Howie Roseman attempt to compromise? Was this really the only rational outcome? Jenkins had said he wouldn’t play under his current deal and it’s typically fair to question if an aging, declining veteran who’s 32 is really worth another big pay day -- until you pause and consider that Ereck Flowers just secured a $30 million contract. Chase Daniel, of all people, is still traveling the highways, robbing franchises of millions. The Eagles couldn’t make an exception for the heartbeat of the defense that helped win them their first and only Super Bowl? Jenkins would’ve made $7.6 million under his current deal, which he insisted he wouldn’t play under. Who can blame him? Devin McCourty, who's a few months older, just re-upped with the Patriots for $11.5 million per year for two years. The way money’s been tossed at average NFL players for the last two days, nobody should be stunned if Jenkins rakes in a much bigger haul than $8 million for 2020. Naturally, news of the divorce drove Eagles fans to social media, many of them banging on Roseman and questioning the team’s ability to compete with another underwhelming secondary.
But let’s take a collective exhale here and accept some harsh truths: First, Roseman told anyone listening this offseason that he planned to overhaul the roster and wouldn’t make personnel decisions rooted in sentimentality. When he said it, fans praised him. The stench of Ruben Amaro Jr. hanging onto Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard several years past their expirations dates still lingers over South Philly. Second, we’re just two days into free agency. The season doesn’t start tomorrow. There’s still the remainder of free agency, the NFL Draft and the trade market to find some talent for the secondary. Roseman entered training camp in 2017 with lousy options at corner until trading for Ronald Darby. Third, the Eagles don’t have to find another Malcolm Jenkins in order to compete for another Super Bowl. They just need to improve the overall roster, strengthen as many positions as possible to overcome weaknesses. NFL teams are constantly saying goodbye to legends. The best just look to get better, not replace one legend with another in the same offseason. The Seahawks haven’t found carbon copies of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor but they’ve still won 21 games over the past two seasons, made the playoffs twice and advanced further this past season than the Eagles did with Jenkins and Jason Peters. Jenkins won’t be easy to replace, but he’s not irreplaceable. It’s almost ironic the Eagles moved on from him on the same day Tom Brady left the Patriots to sign with the Buccaneers. It’s sad that Jenkins’ departure had to come from a contract dispute. It feels like this should have – and probably could have – ended cleaner. Jenkins released a statement that suggested some level of unhappiness with coaches and front office by thanking only Jeffrey Lurie and the fans. If there’s a positive, his departure forces the Eagles to confront the harsh reality that they’ve ignored the safety position in the draft for far too long. They can’t come away from the NFL Draft this year without addressing the position, or else Roseman deserves every bit of criticism that will come his way. - Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is a veteran Philadelphia Eagles and NFL reporter, co-host of Inside the Birds and 97.3 ESPN sports-talk host. Listen to the latest Inside the Birds podcast here: