By Brandyn Campbell
As in life, change is the only constant in the National Football League. The days of a player remaining with one team for the duration of his career have come and gone. Never is that reality more apparent than during free agency.
Each spring, scores of players enter free agency. The uncertainty surrounding the designation can be a mixed blessing. It is an opportunity to see how much value an athlete has on the open market—a professional recalibration of sorts. However, it also presents a series of seemingly endless “what ifs” for players and their families.
The impending reality of a change to a different team, complete with learning a new organization’s culture and playbook, coupled with a move to a new region of the country, is an unnerving prospect for just about anyone. Compound those challenges with managing the demands of raising a family and the situation is all the more tenuous.
Free agency involves experiencing some of life’s most significant stressors all at once: changing jobs and moving to a new location. General wisdom suggests that only one of these events should take place within the space of a year. During free agency, the developments take place in a matter of hours.
A scenario where the only certainty was change is precisely what faced Malcolm Jenkins, then a safety for the New Orleans Saints, and his wife Morrisa in the spring of 2014. Malcolm had been with the Saints since he was drafted in the first round by the team in 2009. In their five years in the Big Easy, the couple had come to call New Orleans home. Its place in their hearts was solidified forever when it became the city where they welcomed their daughter in 2013. The prospect of free agency meant leaving everything that the Jenkins’ had come to know as a young family.
Initially, Morrisa faced the prospect of moving with a sense of adventure. It was an opportunity to step outside of her comfort zone. “In the beginning, I welcomed the thought of moving and experiencing life in a different city, especially since I was born and raised in the South and had never lived anywhere else for longer than two months,” she said.
But that sense of openness soon gave way to apprehension. “We loved New Orleans,” Morrisa said. “We had put roots down, made lifelong friends, and our daughter was born there. The thought of moving away from everything and everyone that I had grown so comfortable with made me a little anxious.”
Morrisa and Malcolm did not know where they would wind up, but they never doubted that they would land exactly where they were meant to be. “Malcolm and I are very spiritual and rely heavily on our faith,” said Morrisa. “So I found comfort in knowing that wherever we ended up, that God had a purpose and a plan for us being there.”
Malcolm’s call finally came. He was to become a Philadelphia Eagle. He had grown up in the Northeast, graduating from Piscataway Township High School in New Jersey, so the move to Philadelphia did not represent a transition to wholly unfamiliar territory. But it was an entirely new experience for the family as a unit.
Any anxiety Malcolm felt about joining a new team melted away when he came to Philadelphia and met his new teammates and colleagues. The Jenkins family was overwhelmed by the positive reception they received from the Eagles organization. “The transition to the Eagles was seamless,” Morrisa said. “They welcomed us with open arms. Malcolm loves it, so if he's happy I'm happy.”
Just days after Malcolm signed with Philadelphia, the Jenkins’ found out that they would be joined by some familiar faces: Darren Sproles had also signed with the Eagles. It was a welcome surprise. “Michele [Sproles] and I became friends in New Orleans so once we both found out we were coming to Philadelphia, we bounced ideas off one another about living arrangements, neighborhoods, schools for our children, hair and nails salons, et cetera,” remembered Morrisa.
The favorable experience with the Eagles followed Malcolm into the regular season, where he quickly established himself as a playmaker on Philadelphia’s defense. But while her husband enjoyed success on the field, the transition to life off the field in a new city was bumpy. The single most important aspect of any move—finding a new place to call home--presented particular difficulties for the young family. While the adjustment to the team was smooth, “the transition to Philadelphia has been a different story” said Morrisa. “We ran into housing issues, so we've been living out of boxes for the better part of a year.” The challenge of locating a new residence proved particularly stressful for Morrisa, finding herself, “with a small baby and a husband who needs some sort of stability especially during the season.”
A year later, the Jenkins Family finally has a place to call home in Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love has given its warm embrace. The doubts and uncertainty of a year ago are but a memory.
As dozens of new players and their families experience the doubt and certainty of free agency this year, Jenkins suggests that they take it all in stride. “There's a plan and purpose for it all,” Morrisa advises. “It's a blessing to be in the position that our guys and our families are in. In the end a career in the NFL is short lived compared to most other professions. So support your husband, hold tight to your family and your faith, and enjoy the ride.”