Packers' versatile offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins happy to celebrate 4-year contract extension after being in 'dark place' a year ago

Ryan Wood
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY – A year ago, staring at the bottom of a steep climb back from his torn ACL, Elgton Jenkins’ mind could wander.

The Green Bay Packers five-tool offensive lineman knew he’d play again. Nothing was keeping him from the field. He just didn’t know how it would look. Jenkins was once on top of the NFL world, a Pro Bowler in his second NFL season, a guard starting at left tackle for eight games last year.

His future was limitless.

Then his left knee buckled on U.S. Bank Stadium’s field turf in Minnesota. As the weeks passed following reconstructive surgery, the uncertainty could be overwhelming.

“This time last year,” Jenkins said, “I was in a dark place. Just coming off three seasons playing good, playing well, and then hurt yourself in your third season. So I could say I was in a dark place, but I just had to work. That’s what I told myself. I’ve just got to work, work, work my way through this.

“I knew I was going to come back, but I didn’t know what extent and how good I was going to be when I came back. So I knew I was going to get paid, but I didn’t know how much.”

Jenkins got his answer Thursday night. After a month of negotiations, the Packers agreed to a four-year, $64 million extension with their former second-round pick, a source told PackersNews. The deal includes a $24 million signing bonus and $6 million in incentives, making it worth up to $74 million total.

Elgton Jenkins' contract extension makes him second-highest paid guard in NFL

The payday made for one memorable Christmas and birthday weekend for Jenkins, who turns 27 years old Monday.

"I said, 'I can't wait to see our presents. You got a nice, little Christmas bonus,'" a smiling LaFleur said. "It's a great day for us, a great day for Elgton. Obviously, he's earned it, and he does it the right way. It's always fun as a coach to see guys that get rewarded for not only their performance, but what they do in that locker room, and the leadership he brings. I can't say enough great things about him. He's been just awesome since the day he set foot in this building, and just brings so much to our team.

"Just really, really, really excited, and that's a nice, little Christmas present for all of us."

At $17 million annually, Jenkins’ salary is the second-highest among NFL guards, behind Indianapolis All-Pro Quenton Nelson ($20 million annually). It also tied Denver’s Garett Bolles for the eighth-highest paid left tackle in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers guard Elgton Jenkins blocks Dallas Cowboys defensive end Carlos Watkins during a game Nov. 13. Jenkins and the Packers agreed to a four-year, $64 million contract extension Thursday night.

Jenkins' versatility valued on Packers offensive line

It’s fitting for Jenkins to be compared in both stacks of offensive linemen because versatility has been the greatest strength in his game. Since the Packers drafted Jenkins with the 44th overall pick in 2019, he has been something of a unicorn among linemen, the rare blocker capable of lining up at any spot along the offensive line.

A college center at Mississippi State, Jenkins was a Pro Bowl left guard in just his second NFL season. His work at left tackle might be most impressive. Jenkins filled in at left tackle as David Bakhtiari recovered from his torn ACL last season before his own ACL tear.

Jenkins said his versatility was part of the reason general manager Brian Gutekunst conveyed for wanting to re-sign him. LaFleur anticipated he’ll continue moving Jenkins wherever needed along the offensive line.

"It's wherever we need him," LaFleur said. "I think he can play anything. I really do. I think he's shown the ability to play tackle, I think he's a hell of a center, obviously guard. I think he can play anything."

LaFleur wouldn’t indicate which position fits Jenkins best, even after his big payday. It might not be coincidence that Jenkins’ play improved after returning to left guard in Week 7.

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It took some time, but Jenkins has found his footing after returning from ACL tear

Jenkins had as difficult of a reentry to the field as a lineman can have after tearing his ACL. His return was remarkably quick, practicing for the first time in camp Aug. 14, less than nine months after surgery. The Packers kept him inactive for their opener in Minnesota, not wanting to expose his knee to the same turf that tore it in his first game back. When Jenkins started his first game one week later against Chicago, he was at right tackle.

Even if Jenkins hadn’t been playing through rust of his extended absence, the transition might have been tough. He had rarely played right tackle in his career before starting the first five games there this season. His play was uncharacteristically sloppy early, especially by his standards. Jenkins allowed two sacks against the Bears – more than he had allowed during his entire rookie season – and looked out of sorts.

“My technique was horrible,” he said after the game.

Jenkins said it took time to adjust after a lack of camp reps at an unfamiliar position.

“When I moved back to guard,” Jenkins said, “I could feel my technique, it felt better than tackle. Because, no excuses, but I didn’t play right tackle before I came back. So when I moved back to guard, I was like, ‘OK, let me get back worn at this,’ and I knew I would get good.”

LaFleur said he could see Jenkins’ “swagger” return a few weeks ago, first during practice, then in games. At his best, he’s an elite lineman equally suited for pass protection and run blocking. The Packers are confident Jenkins has plenty of good years ahead of him.

That’s why, when the joking subsided, LaFleur acknowledged Jenkins’ extension is every bit a gift for the Packers. With him on the field, LaFleur has the luxury of moving a Pro Bowl-caliber lineman at multiple spots, giving him flexibility for laying out the rest of his lineup.

"He's just done so many great things," LaFleur said, "and it's great to see somebody, too, fighting through the adversity, going through the knee injury. It obviously took him a little bit to get going this year, which is to be expected. But he's gotten better and better and better, and I think you've seen that as of late. Each and every week, he seems to get a little bit better."

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