Eagles' teammates back Malcolm Jenkins amid absence: 'We need him'

Safety Malcolm Jenkins has not missed a game since signing with the Eagles in 2014, earning three Pro Bowl berths over that time. Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports

PHILADELPHIA -- There has been no steadier presence within the Philadelphia Eagles organization over the past five years than safety Malcolm Jenkins, which makes his absence this spring all the more noticeable to his teammates.

"Everyone will say they miss Malcolm," said friend and fellow starting safety Rodney McLeod. "How could you not?"

Jenkins uncharacteristically skipped the team's offseason workout program and has been a no-show for voluntary organized team activities. It appears to be understood within the locker room that his decision to stay away is contract-related.

"We need him," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "I know [executive vice president of football operations] Howie [Roseman] and them, they're going to take care of their business. At the end of the day, you've got to take care of your business no matter what, because when you're on that field, you've got to make sure you cover yourself as a player, and obviously they've got to cover themselves as an organization. We all have to handle our business. Business-mind first, play later."

Jenkins, 31, has two years remaining on the four-year, $35 million extension he signed in 2016. The market has shifted considerably since agreeing to that deal. A number of safeties secured lucrative contracts this offseason, including Tyrann Mathieu (3 years, $42 million) with the Chiefs, Landon Collins (6 years, $84 million) with Washington, Earl Thomas (4 years, $55 million) with the Ravens and Lamarcus Joyner (4 years, $42 million) with the Raiders. Jenkins currently ranks ninth among safeties in average salary ($8.75 million) and has little guaranteed money remaining.

There is no denying his value to the Eagles. He was on the field for all 1,038 defensive snaps in 2018, finishing with a team-high 97 tackles, eight passes defensed and an interception. He has not missed a game since signing with the Eagles in free agency in 2014 and has led the defense in snaps in each of his five seasons in Philly, earning three Pro Bowl berths over that time while helping the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title. His versatility -- being able to play both low, high and in the slot; covering tight ends, running backs and receivers alike -- has been a luxury for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.

Jenkins is also the team's primary leader along with quarterback Carson Wentz.

"Malcolm is a certified general," said cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc, who was thrust into a featured role last season as the secondary was decimated by injuries. "He gets everybody lined up, keeps everybody composed and when things get rattled he's that kind of at-ease type guy. When things get going he's going to help you out and he's going to be in your corner. Once he brings you along and gets you up to speed, he's going to rock out with you and that's what I like. I like his energy. I love everything about Malcolm."

Though not in the building, Jenkins is in communication with his defensive backs "all day, every day," per cornerback Rasul Douglas. They have a text chain where "life, ball, anything and everything" is discussed, McLeod said. Jenkins, who is training in the Philly area, recently posted a photo of himself hanging out with his defensive back brethren.

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Jenkins' absence at the NovaCare Complex has been an adjustment. McLeod has taken on a more vocal role in the DB room, and each day players take turns breaking down the group on the field, LeBlanc said. Graham noted that the biggest impact is on the younger players who don't get the benefit of seeing how a veteran like Jenkins approaches his craft.

But players and coaches are also giving this situation an optimistic spin, highlighting the opportunity it provides less established guys on the roster.

"Certainly, he's one of our most experienced players and biggest leaders," Schwartz said. "[His absence is] not anything unusual when you look around the NFL. There are different guys in, different guys out, different guys have different parts of their career. Some guys benefit from more rest, some from more work. Every case is a little bit different.

"I know this, when the chips are down, you'll be able to count on Malcolm Jenkins. And a lot of other guys we're trying to find that out about, and that's what they're doing here at this time of year. Malcolm has some of those credits already in his bank account."

What Jenkins would like is a few more credits in his actual bank account. Barring an agreement, he could stay away from the team until at least the mandatory minicamp starting June 11. While these types of situations can get hairy, his teammates don't expect this to be a long-term issue.

"It hasn't been a distraction really for us," McLeod said. "We understand everyone is an adult, and one guy who you'd never question about being a professional is Malcolm. I know he isn't here, but I don't think anybody is worried about whether he'll be present for us later down the line. Everything that he has going on is his own personal business. We're here obviously grinding, getting it in, support him 100 percent and know when we kick off and get ready to win this Super Bowl, he's going to be right there leading us. Feel me?"