METAIRIE, La. — For years, Sean Payton has admitted that letting safety Malcolm Jenkins go in 2014 was one of his biggest regrets. So the New Orleans Saints didn’t hesitate to scoop him back up after the Philadelphia Eagles decided not to exercise the 2020 option on Jenkins’ contract this week.
“Should have never let him leave to begin with,” Payton told ESPN.
The Saints are nearing a deal with the 32-year-old, who was named to three Pro Bowls during his six years with the Eagles, ESPN’s Field Yates confirmed. NFL Network was first to report the news.
“Malcolm, I think the world of him,” Payton said after a 2018 game against the Eagles — during which Jenkins was seen extending his middle finger at his former coach (for which he quickly apologized). “He’s a tremendous player, and I hate that he got out of here. That was probably as big a mistake as we’ve made here in 13 years. He’s made up of all the right things, and he’s a tremendous competitor.”
Signing Jenkins would likely indicate that the Saints are prepared to lose veteran safety Vonn Bell in free agency. But now Jenkins will bring added value as a mentor to promising young safeties Marcus Williams and C.J. Gardner-Johnson.
The details of Jenkins’ new deal were not immediately known.
The Saints always valued Jenkins’ leadership off the field as much as his ability on the field. He was twice elected at a young age as a captain by teammates.
The Saints drafted Jenkins out of Ohio State with the 14th pick in 2009 — the year they won the Super Bowl. He began his career as a nickel cornerback and special-teams standout before moving to safety in his second season. And he started a total of 63 games in five years.
Jenkins made some occasional spectacular plays — most memorably sprinting the length of the field to chase down a wide receiver before the goal line on two separate occasions. But he never quite lived up to his Pro Bowl potential in New Orleans, and the Saints decided to try to upgrade when they signed free-agent Jairus Byrd to a blockbuster deal in 2014 (a deal that never panned out for them).
Jenkins had a total of six interceptions, 38 pass defenses, 4.5 sacks and six forced fumbles during his five years with the Saints.
The Eagles had until May 18, the start of the league year, to exercise the option, which would have paid Jenkins $7.6 million this season. Jenkins made it clear in January that he wanted a pay raise and wouldn’t play in Philadelphia under the current contract.
The safety market has shifted considerably over the past couple of seasons, with the highest-paid players at the position making $14-plus million on average.
Jenkins’ stance has been well-known for almost a year, yet he was unable to come to new terms with the Eagles, who are looking to get younger this offseason. On Tuesday, they re-signed cornerback Jalen Mills to a one-year deal worth up to $5 million with the intention of moving him to safety, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson.
Jenkins was the undisputed leader of a team that captured the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship in 2017. He did not miss a game during his six-year run in Philadelphia.
He finished 2019 with eight passes defensed, four forced fumbles and 2.5 sacks while lining up all over the field for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
He has 17 interceptions, 95 passes defensed, 18 forced fumbles, 10 sacks and 874 tackles in 11 NFL seasons.
ESPN’s Tim McManus contributed to this report.