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Malcolm Jenkins was The Next Dawkins, right to the bitter end

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History repeats

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

He could still play.

“They opened my eyes right away that this was a business deal, that it wasn’t about being here…who I am to the team.”

These words were said by Brian Dawkins after the Eagles didn’t try to match the contract offer the Broncos made him in 2009. They ring true again.

Nobody would disagree that Brian Dawkins was past his peak. 36 year old football players are never at their peak. But he was still making plays. In his final season with the Eagles, Dawkins tied a career high in forced fumbles with 6; for the third time in his career he had 3 sacks, which was .5 shy from tying a career high; he was 3rd on the team in solo tackles and in tackles for loss, the latter being far and away a career high with 11. And he was the heart and soul of a team that had just come a touchdown away from going to the Super Bowl. This is not the profile of a player to move on from if you are trying to win games.

The Eagles scoring defense was 4th in Dawkins’ final year with the team. The next season, with the only major departures from the defense Dawkins and the death of Jim Johnson, they were 19th. Meanwhile, Dawkins was 2nd team All Pro and the Broncos defense went from 30th to 12th in scoring, and from 31st to 7th in DVOA (though it should be said the Eagles remained at 3rd).

Brian Dawkins could still play.

It would have been one thing if they had someone ready to take over. There wasn’t. The replacements the Eagles tried couldn’t play. The Eagles signed Sean Jones to a one year deal for $3 million in free agency, he took a $500,000 pay cut to make it out of training camp. Before camp, Quintin Demps was Jim Johnson’s favorite to take over the job. Demps ended the 2008 season as the top backup and he was the starter in the preseason under Sean McDermott, but never started a regular season game. Both Jones and Demps were beat out by Macho Harris, who lost his starting job after 7 games. The search for the Next Dawkins started with a dud, and continued on through Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, Jaiquawn Jarrett, Jarrad Page, Earl Wolff, Kenny Phillips, and Patrick Chung.

It ended with Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins was the total package: he lined up everywhere but defensive line, he never missed time, he was a heart and soul leader, he was an icon off the field. He is exactly the kind of player you take the gamble on holding on for too long.

And now that search begins again.

Nobody would disagree that Macolm Jenkins is past his peak. 32 year old players are rarely at their peak. But he is still a hell of a player. Jenkins was the only constant on a turbulent secondary over the past two seasons that finished 15th and 16th in pass DVOA, pretty good for a team throwing guys picked up off the scrap heap to play in the secondary. Jenkins was first on the team in solo tackles for the third straight year and 6th on the team in QB hits, a reflection of his increased versatility. Malcolm Jenkins played at least 92% of snaps every season under Jim Schwartz, no other player on the team for more than one season played more than 66%. This is not the profile of a player to move on from if you are trying to win games.

It would be different if there was a replacement ready to take over. There isn’t. The team announced that Jalen Mills will return in a hybrid role, but there’s more evidence that the team doesn’t believe he can do the job than there is that he can: they not only didn’t play him there when the opportunity arose, opting instead to play a rookie, but Jim Schwartz said “I’m firmly behind Jalen Mills as a corner.” One wonders why Avonte Maddox, who filled in well at safety, isn’t the player chosen to replace Jenkins. But more importantly they re-signed him for one year, and even in the announcement he was moving to safety didn’t commit to him playing there full time. There has been a feeling among some that Mills would be better off as a safety. Hopefully they’re right. We’re about to find out. But that is part of the problem: we don’t know yet. There is one thing we do know:

Malcolm Jenkins can still play.