Eagles sign safety Jenkins

Posted: March 13, 2014

NFL FREE AGENCY began yesterday with a torrent of deals, making it clear that the teams used the 3-day "legal tampering" period to do more than just discuss parameters of potential contracts. They settled on terms, even if the rules still say you aren't supposed to do that.

The Eagles did not get left in the barn, as word of their 3-year pact with former New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins surfaced about an hour after the 4 p.m. opening of the market.

Nobody was shocked when the Eagles tabbed Jenkins for 3 years and $15.5 million, $8.5 million of that guaranteed, with $5 million as a signing bonus, a source close to the situation said. The source said Jenkins can make $16.25 million if he hits all incentives.

Jenkins, 26, was among a handful of safeties at the level where the Birds were expected to shop, along with Mike Mitchell (who signed with the Steelers for a reported 5 years, $25 million), Antoine Bethea (4 years, $26 million with the 49ers) and Chris Clemons, who did not sign anywhere during the opening flurry.

Eagles fans hoping for the most heralded safety prize, Buffalo's Jairus Byrd, were disappointed. Byrd will replace Jenkins in New Orleans for a reported 6 years and $54 million, with a stunning $28 million guaranteed. The Eagles, a younger, building team, did not want to install someone from outside as their highest-paid player. They certainly might yet add a lower-priced safety in free agency, given that Jenkins joins Earl Wolff and Keelan Johnson as the only safeties on the roster. Bringing back Nate Allen, who became a free agent yesterday, seems a possibility.

Even though experts say free agency's middle class outproduces the guys who get the top dollars, it's certainly understandable that some fans preferred the "home run" potential of Byrd (or even jolting box safety T.J. Ward, who went to Denver for a reported 4 years and $23 million) to adding a guy who hasn't quite lived up to his status as the 14th player taken in the 2009 draft. Safety has been the gaping hole in the Eagles' defense since Brian Dawkins left in 2009, and Jenkins alone can't fill that void. Of course, there is still the May draft.

Going into free agency, observers figured Jenkins was a good fit for the Birds because of his ability to play inside or outside, close to the line or deep, and that was the first thing Eagles coach Chip Kelly mentioned in his statement released by the team last night.

"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."

Kelly said he was impressed with what he saw on tape of Jenkins as the Eagles prepared to face the Saints in the playoffs, a game the Birds lost, 26-24. "He's a sharp kid and is ultracompetitive. We're really happy to have him in Philadelphia."

Jenkins, 6-foot, 200, was a Saints captain the past 2 years. He was drafted as a corner, but there was talk from the start of a move, after Jenkins ran a 4.55-second 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine. The Saints switched him to safety in 2010. He is said to take good angles and to prepare diligently. With his departure, the Saints have no defensive players left from the team that won Super Bowl XLIV.

"Very excited to be part of the Eagles organization!" Jenkins said in a tweet last night. He is scheduled to meet with reporters this evening. "I loved every minute I spent in New Orleans, but all good things come to an end."

"Malcolm is someone we've had our eye on for quite a while," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said in a statement released by the team. "He's been a productive player his entire football career, both in New Orleans and at Ohio State."

Roseman said Jenkins is "a high-character player. We are excited to add a guy like that to the culture we've established here."

If you're still hoping for some sort of take-your-breath-away move in free agency, the Cowboys released defensive end/outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware yesterday, and several observers thought the Eagles would make a play, including former Eagles personnel exec Louis Riddick, who now works for ESPN. But ESPN's Adam Schefter, who was first to report the Jenkins deal, tweeted last night that Denver had emerged as the favorite for Ware, who will be 32 when the season starts.

There's still corner Darrelle Revis, expected to be released by the Bucs, who spent yesterday unsuccessfully trying to trade their marquee acquisition of a year ago. The Eagles looked into Revis before the Jets traded him to Tampa, so who knows?

Before they announced they were signing Jenkins, the Eagles took care of two pieces of expected business, re-upping punter Donnie Jones for 3 years and a maximum of $6 million with incentives, a source close to the situation said, and releasing safety Patrick Chung.

Jones, who turns 34 in July, led the NFL last season with 27 punts that weren't returned. His 40.3-yard net was a franchise record, as were his 33 punts downed inside the 20. The team would have signed him sooner, but because he played under a 1-year deal for the veteran minimum last year, NFL rules didn't allow him to sign anything more than that type deal again until the new league year started.

Chung, 26, was the Eagles' biggest free-agent miscalculation last offseason. Brought in to stabilize the position, much as Jenkins was yesterday, he struggled with injuries and repeatedly made bad reads. Chung was scheduled to make $3.25 million this coming season, the second of a 3-year contract. The cap charge for releasing him is $1 million, so the Birds gained $2.25 million in cap room.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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