Elgton Jenkins is set to become one of the Green Bay Packers’ highest-profile free agents during the 2023 offseason, but he will need to focus on getting his knee healthy before the team is willing to engage in any contract discussions.
According to Heavy NFL insider Matt Lombardo, the Packers remain enamored with their 2019 second-round pick and the quality of play he has brought to their offensive line over the past three seasons, but they are also playing things cautiously after losing him to a season-ending ACL injury last November and, per one of his league sources, won’t be having any extension talks until after he is back on the field.
“The Packers love him,” a league source familiar with the situation told Lombardo, as he reported in his September 9 weekly recent column. “But, from everything I hear, it sounds like they want to see him healthy before any contract talks take place.”
Jenkins worked all summer with the Packers’ rehab group and seemed to be making good progress in his recovery, getting activated off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list on August 14 and diving into individual work for the end of training camp. He took another step forward this week when he began taking team reps again (at right tackle) leading up to Sunday’s season opener against the Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately, Jenkins is no sure thing to play in the opener after the Packers listed him as “questionable” to play due to his knee in the final injury report for Week 1. He will need to not only return but also prove his knee can hold up before he and his representation can start talking with the Packers about a possible new contract.
Jenkins Remains One of Packers’ Biggest OL Assets
Jenkins had a rough season with injuries in 2021, missing three games with an ankle injury in the first half of the year and missing six more down the stretch (plus one playoff game) after tearing his ACL on November 21. Prior to his third year, though, the 2019 second-rounder looked like the ultimate swiss-army-knife for the Packers’ O-Line.
The Packers asked Jenkins to step up almost immediately during his rookie year, tabbing him as their new starting left guard after veteran Lane Taylor suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the year. By the end of the season, he had earned PFWA All-Rookie recognition and, more importantly, a permanent starting spot with the Packers for the foreseeable future.
What could not be foreseen, however, was how useful the 26-year-old would become for their line beyond his role as an interior blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, Jenkins played 681 snaps at left guard in 2020, but he also took 297 snaps at center (largely in a starting capacity), 32 snaps at right tackle and 27 snaps at left tackle. It can be challenging to find a lineman who can play at more than one spot without a drop in quality, but finding one who can play all five at a Pro Bowl level? That’s incredibly rare.
Jenkins Could Get Massive Payday on Next Contract
If Jenkins returns to his previous level of play — or exceeds it — the Packers will next have to worry about how they are going to afford him for the long-term future. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent when the 2023 league year begins in March and could have quite the market given his versatility, giving the Packers additional incentive to negotiate with him before he hits hte open market.
According to Spotrac’s calculated market value, Jenkins is projected to earn about $13.9 million in average annual salary on his next contract, but that might not even be a fair estimate. After all, Spotrac’s metrics are assuming Jenkins will be classified as a guard and looking to earn something similar to some of the other top guards on the market, which might not necessarily be the case.
Jenkins has played more guard than anything else over his career with the Packers, but they have expressed a strong interest in testing him out as their right tackle of the future throughout the 2022 season. If he settles into that role and thrives, he will likely want a new contract that reflects the way he is used in terms of compensation and that could mean adding several million more onto the average annual value of his deal.
That said, Jenkins has proven himself worthy of a significant pay raise. So long as he regains his former in 2022, the Packers will likely want to make him a priority.