Jairus Byrd

Are Eagles fans taking Malcolm Jenkins' greatness for granted?

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Are Eagles fans taking Malcolm Jenkins' greatness for granted?

During the offseason of 2014, the Eagles were in need of a safety. There were some quality players at that position hitting the market. The two names that were mentioned most prominently to land in Philadelphia were T.J. Ward and Jairus Byrd. Both players (who each played at Oregon) were very good and coveted by many teams around the league. They were going to get big-time dollars. 

Chip Kelly, the Eagles' coach at the time (remember him?), was at Oregon from 2007 through 2012 as an offensive coordinator and head coach, so he was familiar with both players. Many thought because of that tie, it was a foregone conclusion one of the two would end up in midnight green. But to the organization's and the coach's credit, the Birds had a different plan. So on the same day Ward and Byrd signed free-agent deals with the Broncos and Saints, respectively, the Eagles inked Malcolm Jenkins to a three-year deal.

Byrd would go on to play just 33 games in his three seasons in New Orleans and is now in Carolina after being released by the Saints. Ward played three seasons in Denver and is now a Buccaneer.

Jenkins has been one of, if not the best, free-agent signings in Eagles history. He's played in all 55 games since joining the club. He's tallied eight interceptions, returned four for touchdowns, has 225 tackles and three fumble recoveries. He was a 2015 Pro Bowl selection. And prior to the 2016 season, he signed a five year, $40.5 million extension.

Could someone as accomplished as Jenkins be taken for granted or underrated in Eagles fans' eyes? Our own Reuben Frank touched on this in his 10 Observations after the Redskins game. Perhaps because of his stance on social injustice or raised fist, some fans may either overlook or just not give Jenkins the credit he's deserved for his durability and stellar play on the field. He was dominant Monday vs. the Redskins, registering 10 tackles, a sack and the type of game-altering tackles that kill opponents' drives.

Jenkins was drafted as a cornerback and converted to safety after his rookie year in New Orleans. That experience lends to great flexibility within the Birds' scheme. With the loss of Jordan Hicks for the season, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz may utilize the Birds' "Big Nickel" package, which employs four safeties and two linebackers. Jenkins, in that package, could play in the box or closer to the line of scrimmage and be responsible for coverage of backs or tight ends in the flat. He can also be utilized as a blitzer, as he was in the Washington game.

Jenkins is the gift that keeps giving, both on and off the field.

Three years later, Eagles nailed Malcolm Jenkins vs. Jairus Byrd

Three years later, Eagles nailed Malcolm Jenkins vs. Jairus Byrd

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the NFL combine gets set to kick into high gear this week, the league offered a cautionary tale about free agency. 

On Tuesday night, news broke that the Saints are going to cut safety Jairus Byrd, according to a report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, three years after they signed him to a monster six-year deal. By cutting Byrd, the Saints will save cap space, but they'll also take on plenty of dead money just to move on. 

Just three years ago, Byrd was the hottest safety on the market. He was the guy a lot of Eagles fans targeted. They wanted Byrd, not Malcolm Jenkins. 

Well, this one worked out well for the Eagles. While Byrd's first season with New Orleans ended after four games with a knee injury, Jenkins has become one of the Eagles' best players. 

Byrd has missed more games the last three years (15) than Jenkins has missed defensive snaps for the Eagles (eight). To Byrd's credit, he did play all 16 games in 2016. 

But even when they're both on the field, Jenkins has been the much better player, being named to the Pro Bowl in 2015. He has eight interceptions over the last three years to Byrd's three and Jenkins has returned half of those interceptions for touchdowns. Byrd hasn't had a pick-six since 2011. 

The Eagles rewarded Jenkins with a five-year extension before the start of the 2016 season. 

This story should be on the minds of Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas this week in Indianapolis as free agency approaches. It's not always about the biggest splash; it's about finding the right fit for a team. 

Even if the Eagles really wanted to make a splash this year, they might not have a lot of room to work with. They're strapped in terms of salary cap space, but they do have some options. This week will serve as an opportunity to meet with the representatives for several of their players already under contract like Connor Barwin, Jason Kelce, Ryan Mathews and Mychal Kendricks. Trades or cuts would free up plenty more space. 

There won't be a break after the combine this year thanks to a congested schedule. Almost immediately after the Eagles return to Philly, the legal tampering window will begin on March 7 and free agency opens on March 9.  

With this cautionary tale in mind, the Eagles have to avoid signing a Jairus Byrd and instead sign a Malcolm Jenkins. Easier said than done.