When the Eagles acquired Tim Jernigan from the Baltimore Ravens in March, it was generally assumed that his stay in Philadelphia would be brief.
The 25-year-year-old Jernigan was the odd defensive tackle out in Baltimore after the Ravens gave their other starting tackle, Brandon Williams, a five-year, $54 million contract extension in March.
Trouble was, they sent him to another team that, just 10 months earlier, had signed its all-pro defensive tackle, Fletcher Cox, to a gargantuan six-year, $102.6 million extension.
Most NFL teams aren’t inclined to invest big money in two interior linemen. One, yes. Two, rarely.
The Eagles already had let their other starting defensive tackle, Bennie Logan, walk in March when he became a free agent because they didn’t want to overpay him. Logan ended up signing a one-year, $8 million deal with the Chiefs.
All of this left Jernigan, who was entering the final year of his rookie contract, wondering whether he was going to be a short-timer in Philadelphia.
But his impressive play in the Eagles’ 8-1 start convinced the organization that Jernigan was worth keeping. Last week, it signed him to a four-year, $48 million extension ($26 million guaranteed).
“It feels good to know the team believes in me; that Mr. Lurie believes in me,’’ Jernigan said Monday, referring to team owner Jeffrey Lurie. “I’m definitely going to make them proud and show them they made the right decision.’’
Jernigan has just 1 ½ sacks, but he has been credited with 17 total quarterback pressures by Pro Football Focus. He has also done an excellent job against the run. He had a team-high eight tackles for losses entering the Denver game.
If he had continued to play as well as he has been, he probably could have made a few more dollars in free agency next March. But there’s always the risk of an injury. And he’s really happy playing next to Cox in Jim Schwartz’s attacking 4-3 scheme.
“I’m home, man,’’ he said. “I felt like, since I’ve been here, they’ve welcomed me with open arms. That meant a lot to me. Winning games and having fun. Where else would I want to be? Where else would I want to go?
“I’m glad it’s done. I’m glad I’m going to be here for a while. This second half of the season is going to be very important. I just wanted to make sure I’m focused on that rather than the other stuff.’’
Jernigan played in a two-gap scheme at Florida State, and he played in a two-gap scheme with the Ravens. But the Eagles felt his athleticism was a good fit for Schwartz’s downhill one-gap scheme, and they were right.
“I’m still learning and getting better at it,’’ he said. “It’s definitely something you have to practice all the time.
“I’ve played my butt off since I got here. Through OTAs and the dog days [of training camp] and the first nine games of the season. I’ve learned a lot, but I want to learn even more. I still have a long way to go.’’
Next to Jernigan, no one is happier that he’s going to be sticking around beyond this season than Cox. He and Logan played well together, but Logan was essentially a run-defender who didn’t have the quickness that Jernigan possesses.
“We make a really good duo,’’ Cox said. “We feed off of each other. Timmy’s special. In this league, you have to have two dominant defensive tackles. You have to have two guys inside who can be disruptive.
“Timmy’s not just a first- and second-down guy. He can play any down. He can stop the run. He can rush the passer. They did a good job of getting him, and now keeping him here.’’
Jernigan is forcing offensive lines to play Cox a little more honestly. They still slide toward him, still double-team him most of the time, which leaves Jernigan with a lot of one-on-one matchups. But he’s winning more of them than Logan did.
“He’s winning his one-on-ones,’’ Cox said. “That’s the key. When guys get one-on-ones, you’ve got to win them. He is.’’
Jernigan loves playing next to Cox.
“That’s my brother, man,’’ he said. “He’s a great guy. He’s done nothing but guide me and try to help me get better since the day I got here. There’s been no jealousy factor or anything.’’
Jernigan understands the business of professional sports, understands why the Ravens traded him. They wanted to pay big money to only one defensive tackle, and they decided it was going to be Williams.
Kind of like your girlfriend playing the “It’s not you, it’s me’’ card when she breaks up with you. But rejection by any other name still is rejection.
“When you get traded, no matter what the reason is, you always think that it was [because of] something you didn’t do well enough,’’ Jernigan said. “It doesn’t matter what they say happened. I kind of felt like I had done something wrong.
“I came here and wanted to right my wrongs. On the field, off the field. Make sure I did everything right. I haven’t been perfect. But I’ve made tremendous turns within the last year.’’