Eagles have tough decision to make on Malcolm Jenkins' future

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PHILADELPHIA -- A key deadline is approaching for the Philadelphia Eagles and safety Malcolm Jenkins that will help shed light on where this relationship is headed.

The Eagles have until the first day of the new league year, March 18, to exercise a club option that would keep Jenkins under contract in 2020. If they decline, he becomes a free agent.

Jenkins, 32, has made it crystal clear he will not play for the Eagles under the terms of the current contract. He is scheduled to make $7.6 million this season.

A three-time Pro Bowler and the Eagles' undisputed leader, Jenkins wants compensation that is more in line with his peers, even if his age keeps him from getting top dollar. The safety market has shifted considerably over the past couple seasons, with the highest-paid players at the position making $14-plus million on average.

"I won't be back on the same deal. That won't happen," he said as Eagles players cleaned out their lockers following a playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks in January.

Jenkins' stance has been well-known for almost a year now, and yet there's been no resolution. If the Eagles aren't prepared to sweeten his deal, there's logic to declining the option, as it makes little sense to engage in a standoff with such a respected locker room figure. That move would allow for a clean break while bringing the team closer to its goal of getting younger this offseason.

The Eagles could pick up Jenkins' option with the intent of trading him, but that scenario would likely require a trade partner being in place -- one that would be willing to rework his contract on the back end.

Keeping Jenkins in the fold by picking up the option and offering him a pay bump is the safest move for the Eagles. He hasn't missed a game since coming to Philadelphia via free agency in 2014, has been the guiding voice for a group that has made the playoffs three consecutive years -- including in 2017, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl -- and has served as the on-field conductor and do-everything piece for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The rest of the 2019 starting secondary -- safety Rodney McLeod and cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby -- are pending free agents.

Jenkins' value has been cemented in Philadelphia, as has his legacy, but with a youth movement afoot and prized free agents in their sights, the Eagles have some hard decisions to make when it comes to roster-building and resource allocation.

The situation with Jenkins remains fluid, even with the deadline fast approaching. The uncertainty about whether there will be a ratified collective bargaining agreement has prevented teams across the league from fully committing to an offseason strategy, because they don't yet know the financial landscape they will be operating in.

Soon, those conditions will come into focus, and along with it, the Eagles' intentions when it comes to one of the most important players in franchise history.