Replacing a legend is never easy. The Philadelphia Eagles have learned that the hard way.
It has been five years since Philadelphia let safety Brian Dawkins, one of the most popular players in franchise history, walk in free agency. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie loved Dawkins, but he allowed the man known as Weapon X to get on a plane bound for Denver and a visit with the Broncos. By the time Lurie realized his mistake and called Dawkins and begged him to come back, it was too late. Dawkins signed with Denver, and the Eagles have been looking for an adequate replacement ever since.
Malcolm Jenkins is just the latest player Philadelphia hopes can step into Dawkins’ sizeable shadow and provide the leadership, tenacity and production that Dawkins did for all of those years he roamed the Eagles' defensive backfield.
Shortly after free agency began on Tuesday, the Eagles lured the 26-year-old Jenkins away from New Orleans with what ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported was a three-year, $16.25 million contract. Right before that move, the Eagles released Patrick Chung, whom they signed from New England in free agency last year. He was a massive disappointment in 10 starts last season.
Also Tuesday, Philadelphia continued its offseason trend of re-signing its own players, inking punter Donnie Jones to a three-year contract. This offseason the Eagles also re-signed wide receivers Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, center Jason Kelce, five-time all-pro offensive tackle Jason Peters, and defensive end Cedric Thornton.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was expected to take a measured approach to free agency, having learned a hard lesson in 2011 after the lockout when the Eagles signed a slew of big-name free agents. That situation was a nightmare, with some incumbent starters upset about the money the team lavished on free agents like cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins.
Roseman has since gone back to the Eagles formula for success during Andy Reid’s heyday: Build through the draft, supplement through free agency.
But Jenkins fills an obvious need for the defense, which exceeded expectations last season in Bill Davis' first year as defensive coordinator, but needs upgrades throughout the secondary.
The Saints used the 14th pick in the 2009 draft to select Jenkins out of Ohio State. A cornerback in college, Jenkins moved to free safety in 2010 and started 15 games, intercepting two passes (and returning one for a touchdown), forcing one fumble and recovering two others.
Jenkins started 57 games at safety for the Saints, was a two-time captain and had a reputation as a dedicated, hard-working player who lived in the film room. While Jenkins thrived early last season under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and has versatility having played cornerback in college, he also often has been more about potential than production. Jenkins has been inconsistent in coverage and missed some tackles.
That said, for Philadelphia, Jenkins will be an upgrade over Chung. He joins a team that made the playoffs in Chip Kelly’s first season as head coach and enters 2014 with significantly higher expectations.
“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. He’s a sharp kid and is ultra-competitive. We are really happy to have him in Philadelphia.”
Is Jenkins Brian Dawkins? No. No one is. But he should be the best option at safety Philadelphia has had since Dawkins was in uniform.