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Jenkins sets the tone for Super Bowl-bound Eagles

Safety has been an undisputed leader on and off the field

PHILADELPHIA — The party was already well underway throughout the stands at Lincoln Financial Field, so Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins finally joined in. As usual, his timing was impeccable.

With the Eagles again looking to their leader to set the tone, Jenkins smiled, bounced and stomped Sunday night during the final minutes of their 38-7 dismantling of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. And Jenkins was quickly joined by teammates who have learned that following him just makes sense.

Whether on or off the field, Jenkins takes charge and accepts whatever comes with standing at the front of the line. His positive influence in the locker room is among the biggest reasons the Eagles held it together after star quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 14 and have advanced to face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

“He’s a leader of men,” Philadelphia defensive end Chris Long said of his friend.

It’s hard to imagine that any player in NFL history has ever had to juggle more than Jenkins did this season. And under the circumstances, he handled everything spectacularly well.

While continuing his ongoing efforts to effect criminal justice reform, Jenkins also took the lead in negotiations with the NFL on behalf of players who protested during the national anthem. He stood strong while defending himself against the verbal attacks of men in the protest movement he once counted among his brothers, all the while playing at one of the highest levels of his nine-year career.

And this past week, Jenkins’ wife, Morrisa, gave birth to their second daughter, Selah.

For insight into Jenkins’ impressive juggling act, just ask his teammates about what they’ve witnessed since training camp.

“Everybody always says, ‘Worry about football, focus on football and shouldn’t you be in your playbook?’ ” Long said. “Malcolm has proved … that we can do positive things in the community and still be successful. The way Malcolm attacks things off the field is just the way he plays.”

Said Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith, “To have the type of pressure, especially for Malcolm, that he’s had and to continue to perform at high level, it proves that you can be someone else outside of the building and still be a heck of a football player.”

On Sunday, Jenkins played well as part of a defense that shut out the Vikings after they scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. Jenkins was credited with four tackles, including three unassisted, and was typically sound in pass coverage. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum finished with a poor 63.8 passer rating and was intercepted twice.

“We didn’t want to take our foot off the pedal,” said Jenkins, Philadelphia’s defensive captain. “We wanted to show everyone what we’re about.”

When it comes to fighting for what he believes in, Jenkins has nothing left to prove.

The co-leader of the Players Coalition, the main group of players who protested during the anthem, Jenkins pushed forward in negotiations late last November with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations. They reached an agreement in principle for nearly $100 million from owners to fund social justice programs that will, in theory, help African-Americans. Owners are expected to vote to finalize the deal at the annual league meetings in March.

On the eve of the league’s groundbreaking offer, however, four key players split with the coalition. Blasting Jenkins’ handling of negotiations and their dissatisfaction with the NFL’s multifaceted offer — it earmarks at least $89 million over seven years for both national and local projects — San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas and wide receiver Kenny Stills, and Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung broke away from the coalition. Making matters worse, Reid accused Jenkins of lying to players and secretly negotiating with Goodell. Jenkins denied the allegations.

“It’s about helping people. That’s really all I care about,” Jenkins said. “It doesn’t matter what anyone says about me. That’s not important. Let’s look at the work and what we’re going to try to accomplish to help people.”

Of course, absorbing blows is never easy. Moving forward, though, is the only option, Jenkins said.

“Personally, this has been a roller-coaster year for me … with all the league stuff and the coalition and all of that work,” Jenkins said. “It’s been a grind, but it’s been so rewarding. I wouldn’t change anything or add anything.

“This team that I’ve been blessed to be a part of, and blessed to be called the leader of, has been a blessing to me and my family. … I’m so proud of all of these guys. I love all of these guys. We’ve accomplished so much.”

Yep, Jenkins and the Eagles have a lot of which to be proud. And soon, the game’s biggest prize will be within their reach.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.