This time, Malcolm Jenkins left the New Orleans Saints' facility of his own volition.
He won't be missed any less this time, after returning to New Orleans to play his final two NFL seasons, ending a six-year interruption during which he played for, and won big with, the Philadelphia Eagles.
But when Jenkins announced his retirement Wednesday morning, he did so as a Saint and if New Orleans isn't allowed to claim him wholly as a son, it sure as heck should be proud to claim the portion of Jenkins that he'll allow the city and franchise to embrace as its own.
During a 13-year career that began in New Orleans (2009-13), veered to Philadelphia ('14-'19) and circled back to where it began, the safety was a two-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl champion ('09 with the Saints and Eagles in '17) whom the Saints lamented letting get away. Former coach Sean Payton often listed it among his greatest coaching regrets, allowing Jenkins to leave the franchise as an unrestricted free agent in '14.
His football ability played a large part in the angst; from his second season through his final one, Jenkins started every game he played. In seven straight seasons he played all 16 regular-season games, and the only reason he played 16 of 17 in his final year was because he contracted Covid-19 and was forced to sit out Week 16.
He was Uber productive during his Eagles career, with 515 tackles, 11 interceptions (four returned for touchdowns), 58 passes defensed, 12 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, 5.5 sacks, 32 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hits. The numbers nearly are identical to his Saints totals: 529 tackles, 10 interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), 52 passed defensed, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown), eight sacks, 19 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits.
But what Jenkins took with him to Philly, in addition to the numbers, was the aura, the presence, the conscience.
Former New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins announced his official retirement from the NFL on March 30, 2022. View photos from his seven seasons with the Saints.
We saw the beginnings of it in New Orleans, from ages 22 to 26, in a man who was knowledgeable and curious, who was a budding entrepreneur and locker room leader, who offered a proper perspective no matter how jubilant or uncomfortable the situation, who was a giver to the community because he understood planting and nurturing seeds was the genesis of change.
But the truth is, all of those qualities – and more – appeared to explode on a national level when he relocated to Philadelphia.
I won't deny a twinge of jealousy watching from afar, wishing that New Orleans and the Saints had benefited from the activism that blossomed from ages 27-32. From his outspokenness. From his bravery, as he raised awareness to racial inequality, pushed for police reform and worked, through the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation, to create change for youth in underserved communities. From his admission, to the students whose lives he wanted to help improve, that he was an introvert at heart who had to develop a comfort level with being in front of the cameras, an integral part to him becoming a front man on myriad topics.
But when he came back to New Orleans as an unrestricted free agent in '20, and helped add punch to the Saints' defense at the ages of 33 and 34, he brought all the other qualities along with him, polished through the seasons of trial and error and success and failure.
Probably, there's a little more juice to the squeeze if he wanted to continue playing. Not as much juice as there used to be, because being involved in 16-plus train wrecks, over five months, for 13 years – and that's just the NFL career, it doesn't include college or high school – takes a toll.
But the NFL never was the end game for Jenkins. He was a fantastic player, but that didn't scratch the surface of being the whole of him.
He always seems to have had, and continues to have, much more of himself to give than what was shared with the game. So now, he'll have a chance to pour even more into those endeavors, with the same passion and forethought and pursuit of perfection that he dedicated to football.
And this time, Malcolm Jenkins will leave the Saints' facility of his own volition.
Not with another Super Bowl victory but, clearly, as a champion.