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While the 2019 season hasn't gone to plan for the Jets, linebacker Jordan Jenkins has been one bright spot. Despite missing some time due to injury, Jenkins is second on the team with five sacks and seems to have made some tangible improvements in his contract year.
ESPN's Rich Cimini reported over the weekend that the Jets are eager to extend Jenkins before the end of the season, much as they did with Quincy Enunwa in his contract year last season. Let's consider what Jenkins brings to the table and his value on the open market.
Jenkins -- who is still only 25 -- impressed with his ability to set the edge against the run when he first arrived in the NFL, but only registered 5.5 sacks across his first two seasons. While he was more productive as a pass rusher last year, tying for the team lead with a career-high seven sacks, he seemed to regress against the run. This year, however, he's putting together the best all-round season of his career.
Having been disciplined against the run early on in his career, Jenkins seemed to bite off misdirection too often last year, losing contain on a number of option keepers or end-around type plays. However, he's been much more consistent in the running game in 2019.
Jenkins has also developed into a productive pass rusher. He's showing improved burst off the edge, generating traction on speed-to-power moves and using his hands well to get off blocks cleanly. Over the last 16 games he's played in, Jenkins has racked up 9.5 sacks. If he can continue to produce over the remainder of the season, he'll be viewed as a potential threat to record double-digit sacks every year and will command a large salary as a result.
This time last year, an extension worth upwards of $10 million per season would have been a shocking proposition for a player of Jenkins' caliber. However, his improvements over the past year make this a viable possibility.
When negotiating his true value, Jenkins' agent will probably point towards Green Bay's Zadarius Smith as a starting position. Smith's current deal, signed during the offseason, pays him an average of $16.5 million per year over four seasons, with $20 million in guarantees. Smith had 18.5 sacks over his first four seasons, with a high of 8.5 in his contract year. Jenkins already has 17.5 career sacks with six games still remaining in his fourth year, so his numbers compare very favorably here.
Of course, looking at sack numbers alone is too simplistic. The main difference between the two players is that Smith has been more of a pass rush specialist, while Jenkins has also been asked to drop into coverage a handful of times per week and occasionally play off the ball. As a result, Smith has been more productive in terms of generating constant pressure, although it was only in his contract year that his pressure percentages really escalated to an elite level.
There are factors working in Jenkins' favor in a direct comparison too, though. He's two years younger than Smith and brings some extra versatility. It seems unlikely Jenkins will command the same kind of contract unless he really ramps up his sack and pressure numbers over the remainder of the season, but let's not forget that Smith himself got more than expected because teams -- including the Jets -- got into a bidding war for his services.
The Packers' other big offseason addition also works well as a comparable for Jenkins. Preston Smith is 27, but he plays a more versatile role like Jenkins and their pressure numbers are comparable. Smith's sack numbers when he signed his deal were better than Jenkins' because he got off to a faster start, but again he hadn't had more than eight in a season when he signed a $13 million deal with the Packers.
The Jets will probably seek to get a deal done for closer to $10 million per season but, unless they're guaranteeing a higher-than-usual proportion of Jenkins' salary, they'll have to rely on Jenkins to give them a hometown discount. It's otherwise going to be difficult to justify him being worth so much less than either of the Smiths is earning in Green Bay.
There will always be a lot of demand for a 25-year-old with double-digit sack potential. So, if Jenkins hits the open market, that's where teams might be compelled to outbid each other, and the cost could spiral out of control. It's little wonder the Jets seem keen to get this done as soon as possible, but don't be surprised if they end up having to dig deep into their pockets to get terms agreed.