Malcolm Jenkins still bitter over departure, but Eagles are better off at defensive back
It's worth asking if the Eagles would have been better off keeping safety Malcolm Jenkins, who returns Sunday as a member of the New Orleans Saints.
For his part, Jenkins is still bitter nine months later, telling reporters who cover the Saints this week that he "just wasn't valued that much by those who make the decisions."
Jenkins was referring to Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, who released Jenkins last March. The next day, Jenkins signed with the Saints for four years and $32 million, with $16 million of that guaranteed.
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The Eagles, meanwhile, weren't willing to negotiate beyond the original final year of Jenkins' contract, which would have been this season.
After all, the Eagles faced a tenuous salary-cap situation last spring, and Jenkins, who's 33 years old, was still good, but no longer great.
The Eagles reasoned that they could improve the secondary by replacing Jenkins and cornerback Ronald Darby, who left as a free agent, with cornerback Darius Slay, Nickell Robey-Coleman and by moving Jalen Mills to safety.
On the field, it has been an even tradeoff.
Mills, for one, doesn't have the knowledge or leadership ability that Jenkins was long known for during his six seasons with the Eagles, in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl three times.
But Mills has played well enough at safety as the Eagles are ranked sixth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing an average of 217.2 yards per game.
Jenkins, meanwhile, is more of a hybrid linebacker, a role he was playing with more frequency even in his final season or two with the Eagles. He often doesn't cover deep anymore.
The Eagles are hoping to take advantage of that. Running back Miles Sanders was asked how he feels going against Jenkins 1-on-1 as a receiver out of the backfield:
"I like myself," Sanders said. Sanders was then asked if he had in fact matched up against Jenkins in practice in the past. "Yeah, I like myself," he said again.
Then there are the intangibles that the Eagles truly miss with Jenkins.
"He’s my big brother, for sure," Mills said. "My first four years here, he taught me a lot about football, how to recover my body, what to eat, what not to eat, ways to get myself prepared for the week of practice and also before the game. A guy who definitely helped me as far as a young guy coming in."
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave a 500-word response about what Jenkins meant to him, calling him "probably the smartest player I ever coached."
Then he added, as an example: "We were playing Seattle last year. He heard the offensive line say something about a look that we had ... He came to the sideline and said, ‘Schwartz, next third down, call this. I guarantee we're going to get a sack.’"
Schwartz said that's exactly what happened.
As smart as Jenkins was for the Eagles, keep in mind that the secondary was a disaster last season. Only the Raiders allowed more pass plays of 40 or more yards, with 15. This season, the Eagles rank tied for 13th, allowing just six pass plays of 40 yards or more.
The Eagles had to get better, (read: faster) in the secondary, and by all accounts they did, even including Slay's two recent tough games against Green Bay's Davante Adams and Seattle's DK Metcalf.
But so did the Saints with Jenkins, who played his first five seasons in New Orleans before coming to the Eagles as a free agent in 2014.
That's because the Saints are considered a Super Bowl contender, and the Eagles are not. A veteran like Jenkins helps the Saints, just like he did during the Eagles' Super Bowl season in 2017.
"He’s someone that has got very good football IQ, has got good football instincts," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "He works at his craft. He’s a real good leader, and he’s got a calming presence in the back end.
"He can play a handful of different roles ... Shoot, in the Super Bowl season (of 2017), he was playing in the dime. Generally speaking, he plays closer to the ball (now)."
Prediction for Hurts' first start
In three games since Brees went out with cracked ribs, Hill has thrown for 543 yards with 2 TDs and rushed for 176 yards and 4 TDs. His passer rating is 94.4 and he has averaged 5.2 yards per rushing attempt.
Hill primarily runs read-option plays where he can either keep the ball, hand off to running back Alvin Kamara, or pass to him or another receiver. Kamara has 70 receptions, tops among running backs. Kamara is third in yards from scrimmage with 1,328.
Hurts has similar options in the read-option. As a senior at Oklahoma, Hurts threw for 3,851 yards and ran for 1,298 yards. And he also has Sanders, who is adept as both a runner and a receiver.
"The zone read, it's just another running back on the field playing the quarterback position when you elect to do that," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "If you have success doing that, it can help the other guys positively because it does kind of slow the defense down, or at least keep them in a position where you can maybe take advantage of that."
The Saints, however, also have wide receiver Michael Thomas, who's back healthy, Emmanuel Sanders and the NFL's top defense. The Eagles do not.
Score: Saints 27, Eagles 22
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.