Deal with Jenkins makes sense for the Eagles

Posted: March 13, 2014

AS WE ALL pretend to be happy/sad/ecstatic/outraged about the Eagles' latest free-agent signing, it might be time to acknowledge that while Malcolm Jenkins is easier to spell than Nnamdi Asomugha, his future is no easier to divine. The truth happens from September to January. The truth wears pads. And all of the happy/sad/ecstatic/outraged reaction in the world does not alter that reality.

His resumé suggests he is an improvement over the dearly departed Patrick Chung. Jenkins is known as a leader-type, and as someone who takes the work of his charitable foundation seriously. And, well, that's that. No predictions here. Not worth the paper they're written on, or the space on the server.

The thing to look at today, and days like today, are the bigger-picture trends. If you do that, you have a better shot at unearthing a truth or two.

So, two big-picture thoughts:

1) Versatility continues to be a guiding principle in how Chip Kelly wants to build a roster.

2) The Eagles have returned to the philosophy that contributed to their greatest recent success, with one eye on the present but the other eye - and, maybe, the dominant eye - on building something that will continue to roll into the future.

The versatility part is obvious enough. Last season, you watched the way Kelly began to line up tight end Zach Ertz all over the formation. You watched linebacker Connor Barwin bump Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald at the line of scrimmage on one play and wrestle a pulling guard on the next. It is what Kelly craves - the ability to try different things, to do it with athletes who are credible in different roles, and to see whether game-breaking mismatches might be created as a result.

If Kelly is a versatility coach, then safety is the NFL's versatility position, where you must be able to hit some and cover some and do both in a way that the opponent has to respect. In New Orleans, Jenkins was a guy who played deep in the middle sometimes and in the slot sometimes - and people did take it seriously because Jenkins was drafted as a cornerback.

All of that continues to be the underlying message here. And so, it was no surprise when the Eagles sent out the prepared quotes from Kelly after Jenkins' signing and he said: "We really liked Malcolm's versatility. He can line up at either safety spot, can come in and make a tackle and can play man-to-man as well."

So there is that. The other big-picture takeaway, admittedly, is a little more subtle. But after a couple of years when everything was about giving Andy Reid whatever he needed in the short term, it seems to me that Jenkins fits into a different kind of mindset. The Eagles have spent money to retain their own players and they will need money to continue to do that into the future, especially if quarterback Nick Foles earns the big deal with another good season.

All of which means that you don't throw a Volkswagen full of money at a safety such as Jairus Byrd, especially a safety who isn't overly fast to start with and might or might not have a bum wheel.

By all accounts, Byrd is a better player than Jenkins when healthy, and it could have worked out fine here, and it would have been interesting to see. But the questions are obvious: At what price, and at what long-term financial consequences?

Back in the day, the Eagles made their share of big free-agency splashes - take Troy Vincent, Jon Runyan, Terrell Owens and Jevon Kearse, to name four. Even though Kearse didn't really work out, the notion was the same: elite players and/or impact positions. Byrd really does not fit either category - it isn't as if he's Brian Dawkins, and safety still is a notch below corner in importance.

The only guys out there with that kind of pedigree are cornerback Darrelle Revis (assuming Tampa Bay cuts him) and pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. Assuming the football evaluation is positive, and they haven't slipped pysically, those are the kinds of players worth chasing and then figuring out the 2015 and 2016 money later (although if Revis is really going to get $16 million, well, that's a mouthful).

Whether they make a run at either guy is unknown, but paying big money for somebody of that caliber at those positions fits the classic Eagles strategy under owner Jeffrey Lurie. Overpaying for a safety does not.

So, Malcolm Jenkins. It really does make sense.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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