Even in the watered-down world of the modern NFL, safeties are known for delivering big hits.
Malcolm Jenkins took another pound of flesh on Wednesday and it wasn’t from a receiver on a shallow-crossing pattern. This time the former Eagles three-time Pro Bowl selection piled on during a tough time for Howie Roseman — and let’s just stipulate the Philadelphia general manager has had better Wednesdays.
The ceremonial changing of the guard from his organization’s $128 million quarterback in Carson Wentz to a 2020 luxury draft pick in Jalen Hurts was obviously the sizzle midweek, fueled even further by a generational schism in the Eagles’ locker room. The steak, however, resided in the French Quarter, where Jenkins was taking aim at the Philadelphia brass.
The veteran safety, who Jim Schwartz called the smartest player he’s ever coached over a quarter-century in the NFL earlier this week, decided to set the record straight on his exit from the city he adopted during a six-year stay which included a Super Bowl LII championship.
“For me, I gave everything I had to that city, to the team, 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,” Jenkins said during his weekly media briefing on Wednesday in advance of a return to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday with the NFC-leading Saints.
In the end, Jenkins felt undervalued and somewhat disrespected by the Eagles organization.
The easy path from there is to assume that Jenkins, who will turn 33 later this month, wanted too much money in what is the twilight of his career, something he also made sure to dispute.
“[My play] just wasn’t valued that much by those who make the decisions,” Jenkins explained. “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 that respect factor was and it wasn’t valued at what I thought.
“So decisions are made and I end up at a place that values what I bring, that has history with me.”
Jenkins started his career in New Orleans and won a Super Bowl with the team as their first-round draft pick out of Ohio State in 2009. Sean Payton, meanwhile, has said one of his biggest mistakes as the coach of the Saints was letting Jenkins get out of his building as a free agent in 2014 when the safety signed with the Eagles.
Schwartz, Meanwhile, is either in line for an Academy Award or he wasn’t involved in the hard decision to move on from Jenkins.
“Versatility was amazing with Malcolm. He played seven different positions on defense here and he knew all 11,” the Eagles defensive coordinator said. “He knew all 11 like a coach. He was a great set of eyes on the field for me. Incredibly honest player. Always did his job. …
“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.”
That public affirmation from his old boss meant a lot to Jenkins.
“That’s respect on the highest level,” he said. “And 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 and so to hear that from a coach that you played for, that’s why you play the game. You play the game for the respect of your opponents, your peers and those you play for.
“I didn’t take that lightly. That meant a lot to me.”
And so did the city of Philadelphia itself, where Jenkins still resides.
During the offseason when facilities were closed around the league during the pandemic, Jenkins was often out in the community fighting for the social-justice causes he’s so passionate about.
“I gave six years of everything I had, not just on the field, but into the locker room, into the community,” said Jenkins. “Philly was me. It’s synonymous at one point in time.”
So what went wrong?
At the end of the 2019 season, Jenkins was still under contract but went on record to say he would not play the 2020 season under those terms.
Like many veterans on the back end of deals, Jenkins guaranteed money was up so the expectation was that the Eagles would tweak the contract, perhaps guaranteeing his 2020 salary of $7.85M and tacking on another season with a bit more guaranteed cash.
That’s what typically happens with veteran players who continue to play at a high level but are closer to the finish line of their careers than the starting gun.
The Eagles wouldn’t budge and instead declined Jenkins’ option year and let the North Jersey native hit free agency where he got $16M guaranteed from the Saints, essentially $8M over two seasons with voidable years on the back end, exactly the kind roadmap many thought the Eagles would use because it’s a run-of-the-mill way of doing business in the NFL.
Yet, on the old and expensive roster in which Roseman continued to double down after the Super Bowl LII win, the exception was the still somewhat cost-effective veteran still producing?
Some blame Jenkins’ outspokenness or even his powerful presence in the locker room overshadowing the players Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie wanted to be the face of the franchise.
Rumors aside, what’s abundantly clear is that Jenkins is just another example of Roseman taking a detour from what his coaching staff wanted, maybe the biggest reason the Eagles will enter Sunday’s game at 3-8-1 and New Orleans will arrive at 10-2.
“[Jenkins] certainly meant a lot to me personally, to our defense, and our team,” Schwartz said. “He doesn’t play for us anymore. I root like crazy for him 15 games a year, but not going to be rooting for him on Sunday. We’ll try our best to go after him and he’ll try his best to go after us, and that’s the way the NFL is.”
For league decision-makers, there’s also an understanding of what the NFL is for them: you either stack good decisions or you don’t.
John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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