GREEN BAY – A year ago, as he stared at the bottom of a steep climb from a torn ACL, Elgton Jenkins’ mind could wander.
The Green Bay Packers’ five-tool offensive lineman knew he would play again. There was nothing stopping him from entering the field. He just doesn’t know what it will look like. Jenkins was on top of the NFL world, an NFL quarterback in his sophomore season in the NFL, as starting guard at left tackle for eight games last year.
His future was limitless.
Then it hit his left knee on the grounds of US Bank Stadium in Minnesota. As the weeks go by following reconstructive surgery, the uncertainty can be overwhelming.
Jenkins said, “At this time last year, I was in a dark place. Just coming out of three seasons playing well, playing well, and then hurting yourself in your third season. So I could say I was in a dark place, but I had to work.” I just. That’s what I told myself. I just gotta work, work, work my way through this.
“I knew I was going to come back, but I didn’t know how good I was going to be when I came back. So I knew I was going to get paid, but I didn’t know how much.”
Jenkins got his answer Thursday night. After a month of negotiations, the Packers agreed to a four-year, $64 million extension with their former second-round pick, a source told PackersNews. The deal includes a $24 million signing bonus and $6 million in incentives, bringing it up to $74 million.
Payday made for a memorable Christmas weekend and the birthday of Jenkins, who turns 27 on Monday.
“I can’t wait to see our presents,” said Lafleur, smiling. “I’ve got a nice little treat for Christmas.” “It’s a great day for us, a great day for Elgton. He’s clearly earned it, and he’s doing it the right way. It’s always fun as a coach to see players who get the rewards not just for their performance, but for what they do in that dressing room, and the leadership that they give.” “He brings it in. I can’t say enough great things about him. He’s been fantastic from the day he set foot in this building, and he brings so much to our team.”
“Just, really, really excited, and here’s a nice little Christmas present for all of us.”
At $17 million annually, Jenkins’ salary is the second highest among NFL guards, behind Indianapolis All Pro Quinton Nelson ($20 million annually). Denver’s Garrett Bowles is also tied for the eighth-highest-paid left tackle in the NFL.
It is appropriate to compare Jenkins on both sets of offensive lines because versatility has been the greatest strength of his game. Since the Packers drafted Jenkins with the 44th overall pick in 2019, he’s been something of a unicorn among linemen, a rare blocker capable of lining up anywhere along the offensive line.
Jenkins, a college center at Mississippi State, was a Pro Bowl left guard in his second season in the NFL. His work at left tackle may be even more impressive. Jenkins hit the ball left as David Bakhtiari recovered from an ACL tear last season before tearing his ACL.
Jenkins said his versatility was part of the reason General Manager Brian Gutkunst wanted to re-sign him. Lafleur expected that he would continue to move Jenkins wherever needed along the offensive line.
“It’s where we need it,” said Lafleur. “I think he can play anything. I really do. I think he’s shown the ability to play tackle, I think he’s a hell of a quarterback, he’s obviously a guard. I think he can play anything.”
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Lafleur wouldn’t point out which position would fit Jenkins better, even after his sizable salary. It may not be a coincidence that Jenkins’ performance improved after returning to left guard in Week 7.
Jenkins experienced as much difficulty re-entering the field as a lineman can have after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. His return was remarkably quick, as he first trained at camp on August 14, less than nine months after his surgery. The Packers kept him inactive for the Minnesota opener, not wanting to expose his knee to the same turf it tore in his first game. When Jenkins started his first game one week later against Chicago, he was at right tackle.
Even if Jenkins isn’t playing amidst the rust of his long absence, the transition could be tough. He has rarely played right tackle in his career before starting his first five games there this season. His play was uncharacteristically sloppy early on, especially by his standards. Jenkins allowed two runs against the Bears—more than he had allowed during his entire rookie season—and seemed to be sort of a hit.
“My style was awful,” he said after the match.
Jenkins said it took some time to adjust after a lack of camp actors in an unfamiliar setting.
“When I went back to guard, I just felt my technique, and it felt better than tackle,” said Jenkins. “Because, no excuses, but I hadn’t played right tackle before I came back. So when I went back to guard, I was like, ‘Okay, let me put this on,’ and I knew.” I’m going to be good.”
LaFleur said he could see Jenkins’ “swagger” back a few weeks ago, first during practice, then at games. At his best, he is an elite lineman equally well suited to pass protection and run blocking. The Packers are confident that Jenkins has many good years ahead of him.
That’s why, when the jest died down, Lafleur acknowledged that the Jenkins extension is everywhere a gift to packers. With him on the field, LaFleur has the luxury of moving a Pro Bowl-caliber lineman to multiple locations, giving him the flexibility to line up the rest of his lineup.
“He’s done a lot of great things,” said Lafleur, “and it’s great to see someone also, fighting through adversity, going through a knee injury. It obviously took a little bit to start this year, which is to be expected. But it just got better and better and better, and I think you’ve seen That lately. Every week, it seems to get a little better.”
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