BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Malcolm Jenkins was one kind of NFL player in New Orleans.
A starter, to be sure; a first-round pick who was productive — even though his positions and roles frequently changed during his five seasons with the Saints.
But Philadelphia has allowed Jenkins to truly shine, on and off the field. Four years after he signed with the Eagles when the Saints pursued Jairus Byrd in free agency — and eight years after Jenkins won a Super Bowl ring as a rookie — Jenkins is back on the Super Bowl stage, this time as a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the NFL's leading voices on social issues.
"There’s Malcolm Jenkins the football player, then there’s Malcom Jenkins the activist, then there’s Malcolm Jenkins the person," Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks said.
By signing with Philadelphia, Jenkins the football player found a team with a clear vision for his talents. In New Orleans, Jenkins always felt like his role was a moving target; drafted as a cornerback, he moved to safety in his second season even though he'd never played the position, then eventually ended up playing the nickel under Rob Ryan in his final season in addition to his duties at free safety.
Jenkins still started for four seasons, but when his rookie contract expired and the Saints didn't call, it was clear they wanted something else. The Saints ended up signing Byrd from Buffalo to a monster deal.
"That bothered me," Jenkins said. "Not just because they were moving on, but just because I didn’t hear anything. The season was over, no offer was made, no conversations were had. Really, just, if they’d had the courtesy to tell me they were moving in a different direction, it would have been fine."
Philadelphia, on the other hand, recognized immediately that Jenkins is at his best when he's lining up all over the field.
"When I came in here, they allowed me to have the opportunity to play safety, nickel and corner," Jenkins said. "It’s just been more of a natural fit for me."
Jenkins' role has evolved to the point that he'd rather not be identified by any one position.
Asked to play a Swiss Army knife role for both of his coordinators, Billy Davis and Jim Schwartz, Jenkins has lined up all over the field, and Patrick Robinson's emergence as a nickel this season allowed Schwartz to use Jenkins in even more spots.
"I’m not a 'labels' type of guy, so every time my coach tries to call me a safety, I correct him and tell him I’m a hybrid," Jenkins said. "This year, I’ve played linebacker — Mike and Sam — played the nickel, strong and free safety, corner at times. Wherever you need me."
Schwartz also uses Jenkins as one of the defense's primary signal-callers, along with linebacker Nigel Bradham.
"We understand each other; we understand every spot and we can put guys in position based on what we see," Jenkins said. "Schwartz doesn’t ask us where we’re going to line up or who’s going to do what. He trusts us to really make those calls and really use those tools within those coverages."
As Jenkins has flourished on the field, he's become a force off of it.
He launched the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation in 2010, when he was still with New Orleans, and the foundation has contributed to a wide range of causes involving underprivileged children.
But he's become most visible in the past two seasons.
Jenkins raised his right fist during the national anthem for the past two seasons to raise awareness for criminal justice reform. He has actively sought solutions to the problem.
The veteran safety joined with Anquan Boldin to travel to Capitol Hill last year to push for criminal justice reform, and the pair then helped form the Players' Coalition, which reached an agreement with the NFL that prompted the league to begin donating to social-justice reform causes.
He is also holding a series of conversations with Upper Darby (Pa.) police superintendent Michael Chitwood to discuss some of the issues surrounding the movement.
"I’m in a position where I’m on a team that I can be vocal and use this platform," Jenkins said. "Players on other teams aren’t necessarily in the same position, so there is a sense of responsibility from me to kind of carry the torch."
Jenkins admits that it's not easy being one of the league's leading voices on social change, although he's been joined in Philadelphia this season by defensive end Chris Long, who donated his entire salary to educational causes.
He feels called to help, and he doesn't see his involvement ending anytime soon.
"It’s one of those things that, if you want to see your change, you have to talk about it. You have to stand out in front," Jenkins said. "It never gets comfortable; these conversations aren’t easy. I’m still not used to it. I just understand that what I wanted to accomplish was more important than that.”
The rest of the Eagles have taken a cue from Jenkins.
"A lot of guys want to play with a guy like Malcolm, because his body of work on the field, his off-the-field presence, too, the things he does in the community," safety Rodney McLeod said. "You know, he’s one reason why I came over (from the Rams) last year."
Jenkins, obviously, is one of the few Eagles who has been to the Super Bowl and won.
But this is a different Jenkins than the one who played with the Saints, a man fully realizing his potential.
"This has definitely been a special year," Jenkins said. "What it’s going to turn into? I don’t know, but for me, it’s been a year that a lot has gotten accomplished on the field, off the field, in my personal life."
A win Sunday over the Patriots would make it even better.