Playing well in a contract year is imperative in the NFL. It gives a current employer reason to re-sign a player with a handsome deal, or makes other teams want to write checks in unrestricted free agency.
That didn’t happen for Jelani Jenkins. His body broke down at the wrong time. Miami’s two-year starting weakside linebacker dealt with ailments that kept him out of seven games in 2016, limiting him to 29 tackles in nine games and seven starts.
That’s a far cry from the 181 tackles recorded in two previous years as a mainstay in the Dolphins defense. The timing was poor for sure. Several teams were interested in Jenkins, but he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Raiders on Monday looking to recover from a rough year on the field.
“I would say that was one of the most frustrating years in my life, especially regarding my career,” Jenkins said. “It just kind of taught me how to be resilient, not get my head down but just keep working, keep trying to get back out there on the field and helping the team as much as I could. But, that definitely taught me to just be resilient and I definitely got a chance to learn my body more and more and what it can take, what it can’t take, when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to keep going. All of that definitely helped.”
Jenkins is expected to play weakside linebacker in silver and black and replace Malcolm Smith, who signed with the 49ers this offseason. That position bears a heavy burden as a primary tackler against the run and a coverage option against receiving running backs and tight ends.
“It’s something I’ve had to do even since my time in college,” the University of Florida alum said. “It’s something that they asked me to do. I’ve been on teams with a lot of great tight ends and running backs. So I’ve had to cover them every day in practice. I think that helps.”
Jenkins is excited to contribute to a team on the rise, and hopes to capitalize on a year as a major contributor on the Raiders defense.
“It’s definitely a team that’s getting better and better every year,” Jenkins said. “They have a defense with a lot of talent on it. They play fast. They play hard. They play tough. They play with a lot of energy. You can tell by looking at film that they have a lot of fun. That’s something that I pride myself on, is energy and just enjoying the game. It seemed like a great fit.”