The Eagles are holding OTA practices at the NovaCare Complex, and almost everywhere you look, things are going great.
Carson Wentz is practicing and looking great while doing so. DeSean Jackson is making plays and showing signs of veteran leadership. The offense, even with some key plays missing, looks like it has the potential to be one of the best units in the league. Brandon Graham seems set for a big season.
Hanging over this team’s head, however, is a potential showdown with one of their most important players, Malcolm Jenkins.
A showdown that if they don’t figure out could end up ruining the season.
That might sound dramatic, but make no mistake about it, the Eagles can’t afford to go into the 2019 season without a happy, healthy and motivated Jenkins. Both on-and-off the field, the Eagles desperately need Jenkins in 2019 if they have any hope of reaching the realistic goal this team has — making a serious run at a Super Bowl.
On the field, Jenkins is about as close to irreplaceable as any other player on the Eagles roster. Clearly Wentz is important, but the Eagles have shown that they can win without him. Jenkins, on the other hand, does so much for the Eagles’ defense it would be very hard to find a player to fill all the roles he has. He plays safety, he plays cornerback and he plays linebacker. He plays all of them at a high level. The only player on the roster that would have even a chance of doing what Jenkins does is Avonte Maddox, but asking Maddox to take on Jenkins’ responsibilities in his second season is a recipe for disaster.
Simply put, if Jenkins isn’t on the field, there is a strong chance the Eagles’ defense would crumble. It nearly happened last year when they lose Rodney McLeod and Jenkins is a far more important piece of the Eagles’ defense. There is a reason Jenkins playing every single snap over the last three season has been so crucial. Jenkins is the player that makes the Eagles’ defense go, and despite some poor showings, the defense has played a big role in the team’s postseason success the last two seasons.
The Eagles can have an improved offense, which looks like it will be the case, but without a motivated and happy Jenkins on the defense it might not matter.
Off the field, Jenkins is the emotional leader of the locker room and is the true captain despite what the other patches the team hands out might say. It is Jenkins that breaks the team down before each game, Jenkins that answers all the hard questions through the media and Jenkins that sets the tone for the team. Jenkins feeling disrespected over his current contract and not feeling as motivated as he might otherwise is not a risk this team should take.
Financially, the Eagles have the money to get a deal done. It isn’t clear what Jenkins is asking for, but the Eagles have the room to get something done with $25 million in salary cap space right now, ninth most in the NFL.
Eagles top personnel executive Howie Roseman has earned the reputation as one of, if not the best, salary cap experts in the league. Year-after-year the Eagles have been able to manipulate the salary cap to make sure they had more than enough money to get what they wanted done.
Which is why if the Eagles do indeed decide not to give Jenkins a new deal, it won’t be because of salary cap space or a need for money elsewhere. It won’t be because of a potential new deal for Wentz. It will be because they don’t want to pay Jenkins.
That is not a decision the Eagles should make. It is unlikely Jenkins will holdout into training camp or into the regular season. Very few players ever do. Playing this game with Jenkins, almost daring him to do so, however, isn’t worth it. Not with the expectations and potential this team has. Not with how badly the Eagles need their quarterback to have a successful season.
The Eagles have operated as a win-now team this offseason, and very few — if any — players are more important to the team winning now than Jenkins.
Which is why the Eagles should do what it takes to make Jenkins happy and get him back into the NovaCare Complex as soon as possible.