Birds feel Jenkins is a good fit for their scheme

Malcolm Jenkins allows Brandon Marshall to break away. Jenkins missed 16 tackles last season.
Malcolm Jenkins allows Brandon Marshall to break away. Jenkins missed 16 tackles last season. (         Getty Images)
Posted: March 13, 2014

Malcolm Jenkins fit the paradigm the Eagles set last offseason during free agency.

The former Saints safety, who agreed to a three-year contract with the Eagles on Tuesday, is young, relatively inexpensive, and considered by some to be an ascending talent.

Most of the team's signings last season followed this pattern, and some panned out, but the two additions at safety were strikeouts. So it's understandable if skeptics question Jenkins and the Eagles' evaluation of the 26-year old.

Jenkins may not have the resumé of Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, or Donte Whitner - three other free-agent safeties - but the Eagles believe his skills are suited to their scheme. They also paid significantly less than they would have for Ward or Whitner. Byrd, perhaps the best safety on the market, signed with the Saints Tuesday evening.

But the Eagles did not buy from the stopgap bin, as had been their practice. Jenkins' three-year, $16.25 million contract with $8.5 million guaranteed is considerably more than they've given a free-agent safety.

And they're probably not even done at the position. Patrick Chung was released on Tuesday and Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, and Colt Anderson became unrestricted free agents, leaving Earl Wolff, Keelan Johnson, and Jenkins as the lone safeties on the roster.

So there's still work to be done in free agency. There's still the draft. But Jenkins and a healthy Wolff should be an upgrade over Allen and Chung, who ended the season as the starters.

Allen improved last season, but he's a below-average cover safety and played on his heels in run support. Chung was injury prone and had lost much of his confidence by the end of the season. Wolff still has lots to prove, and will likely have to earn a starting spot, but there were glimpses of hope in his rookie season.

Wolff displayed a knack for roaming near the box and tackling ballcarriers, but he struggled in coverage, especially whenever the Eagles went into a zone, which was often.

Jenkins doesn't do any one thing great, but he does many things competently. Eagles coach Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis emphasize versatility and the 6-foot, 204-pound Jenkins has played strong (near the box) and free (center-field) safety and also in the slot.

"We really liked Malcolm's versatility," Kelly said. "He can line up at either safety spot, can come in and make a tackle, and can play man-to-man as well. I had a chance to study him on tape leading up to the playoff game and really liked what I saw."

The Eagles safeties are interchangeable in Davis' scheme. They often rotate based on the offensive formation or Davis' calls. If the tight end, for instance, is in motion and the safety is responsible, then he must move toward the box while the other safety drops back.

Jenkins played in a comparable system in New Orleans. He was far from perfect. A converted cornerback, he seemed to deliver after being selected in the first round of the draft when he was voted second-team all-pro after his first season as a safety in 2010.

But Jenkins never took the next step to elite status. Last season, for instance, opposing quarterbacks completed 36 of 48 passes for 486 yards when they targeted him, according to Pro Football Focus. He missed 16 tackles in 14 games.

But those numbers hardly tell the full story. Jenkins was deemed expendable by the Saints because they had 2012 first-round pick Kenny Vaccaro and then added Byrd.

Some may view the Jenkins signing as underwhelming in light of the available talent. But Ward and Whitner are ideally strong safeties and Byrd, who is more versatile, has had an issue with recurrent plantar fasciitis.

The Eagles checked in on former Panthers safety Mike Mitchell, but he received $25 million over five years from the Steelers. General manager Howie Roseman and the Eagles brain trust still rate safety low on their list of priorities.

But the days of signing injury-prone question marks such as Sean Jones, Marlin Jackson, Jarrad Page, O.J. Atogwe, Kenny Phillips, and Chung ended with the Jenkins acquisition. He has never had a significant injury in his career and was a leader in New Orleans, twice being voted Saints defensive captain.

Jenkins is just one piece to the puzzle. The Eagles still have to improve their pass rush. They need young depth at cornerback. And they need at least one more safety.

But Jenkins fills a hole, satisfies the schematic needs, and represents an increased commitment to the position.

It's a start.


jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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