I’ve heard more than a few people opine that Cullen Jenkins will be too expensive to re-sign. That’s not really accurate. Even though the Packers figure to be pretty tight against the salary cap once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, if general manager Ted Thompson really wanted to keep the veteran defensive lineman, he could find a way (dumping high-priced and expendable veterans like offensive tackle Mark Tauscher and inside linebacker Nick Barnett would be a good place to start). But the truth is, Thompson has been planning for life without Jenkins for quite some time. That reality started to become clear as far back as April 2010 when a pair of defensive linemen were selected in the draft. And it became blatantly obvious when he failed to reach out to agent Cary Fabrikant at any time during the ’10 season.
So why didn’t Thompson put up
more of a any kind of fight to keep a player ranked No. 1 in pass rushing productivity since 2008? For one, Jenkins is always hurt. He’s missed 17 games in the past three seasons, and when he hasn’t been out of the lineup, he’s often been slowed by a myriad of nagging injuries. Another thing working against re-signing Jenkins is his age. He turned the big 3-0 in January. That milestone birthday, coupled with a long history of injuries, does not bode well for his future. Any general manager willing to offer the former Central Michigan star a five or six-year deal is rolling the dice – especially now that the cap is expected to reappear. The final thing working against Jenkins returning for an eighth season in Green Bay is Dom Capers. Thompson has so much faith in his veteran defensive coordinator – not to mention the ability of his coaches to develop young talent – that he’s not afraid to let a very good player walk away.
And that’s what Jenkins is – a very good player. Those who consider him to be more than that are mistaken. He’s slightly above-average at the point of attack, and regardless of what Pro Football Focus says, he’s not an élite pass rusher. Statistics might suggest he’s been the most productive pass rusher in the league since 2008, but those same statistics also place Trevor Pryce, Shaun Rogers, Jason Jones, Mike Wright and Tony Brown among the top 10. None of this is meant to minimize Jenkins’ contributions to the Packers over the past seven seasons, but let’s not get carried away. A scout once told me that there are very few truly irreplaceable players on a 53-man roster. In Green Bay, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews probably fit that description. Jenkins does not.