Long Road Leads To Long-Term Deal For Jenkins

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For his first three years in the NFL, Cullen Jenkins always felt like he was fighting for his next one-year contract.

But now that he's finally got a long-term deal, Jenkins knows the pressure has shifted to proving he's worth the investment, and he doesn't plan to let the Packers, or himself, down.

A former training camp casualty as a rookie who was later assigned to NFL Europe, Jenkins' long road to success reached a fruition of sorts on Monday when he agreed to his first multi-year NFL contract, keeping him right where he wants to be - in Green Bay.

"It was the No. 1 priority for me going into the offseason, signing some type of long-term deal here, and to be able to make it happen is a big relief," Jenkins told a group of local reporters on Monday.

"For all I've been through, yeah, it means a lot. It still hasn't really set in all the way yet, just getting it done today. I still catch myself daydreaming thinking about it ... It does mean a lot to me."

Jenkins and the Packers came to terms just a few days before the versatile veteran would have become a restricted free agent and a little over two months after Jenkins appeared to find a home on the defensive front.

Known for his versatility, Jenkins played both defensive tackle and defensive end at times throughout 2004 and 2005. Last season, he was primarily a backup defensive tackle until being moved in December to defensive end on early downs to help bolster the Packers' run defense.

Stout enough (6-3, 290) at the point of attack but still athletic enough to generate a pass rush, Jenkins flourished in the new role and quickly took over as a starter at end opposite Aaron Kampman. In his first 2006 start there, on Dec. 17 against Detroit, he posted career highs with seven tackles (all solo) and three sacks, and he also recovered a fumble.

It wasn't the only reason, but the Jenkins move was a key factor in the defense's late-season improvement and the four-game winning streak to close the season.

Because of that, the Packers see Jenkins as a fixture on the defensive line for years to come. He's almost certain to open 2007 as the starter once again, but he feels comfortable playing any role the coaching staff asks him to.

"I like to refer to myself as a utility guy on the D-line," Jenkins said. "I think it's big when I can show the versatility, play any position and contribute to the team at any position on the D-line."

{sportsad300}Jenkins also is excited about continuing to contribute to his up-and-coming team. Jenkins is one of several players who wants to see if this group of Packers can build on the strong finish to 2006.

"Having a young team, with the momentum we have coming off of last year, it's really important for everybody to try to keep the same unity and bond we had at the end of the season so we try to continue that," he said.

As for finally getting a long-term deal, for Jenkins it eases the burden of playing for job security, but he has no intention of allowing any letdown in his game.

Last year, Kampman signed a multi-year contract extension and promptly went on to have a career year, posting 15 1/2 sacks and being named to his first Pro Bowl. So Jenkins realizes there's plenty to play for, and he may get the opportunities if defenses focus more attention on the Pro Bowler opposite his spot.

"I guess the biggest pressure to me is I don't want to be one of those guys that they say, 'Well, he had his contract and we shut him down,'" Jenkins said. "Now, you want to be the guy like Kampman ...He got his contract and he showed he's worth every bit of it, and I want people to look at me and say the same thing."

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