The NFL is a brutal professional ecosystem, as several members of the Minnesota Vikings roster are about to discover firsthand.
Minnesota must get younger, faster and cheaper across the board, but particularly on the defensive side of the football where schemes will change drastically in 2023 under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores. That means some Vikings lifers, such as linebacker Eric Kendricks, are likely to be ushered out the door in favor of a youth movement expected to take hold in Minneapolis this offseason.
Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus on Tuesday, February 14, delved into the most likely cut candidates across the NFL and landed on Kendricks in Minnesota. His contract carries a little north of $1.9 million in dead money but he still represents $9.5 million in total cap savings for a Vikings unit that is currently $23.3 million over the salary cap.
The porous Minnesota defense could be even worse in 2023 given the age of a lot of their top contributors from this past season, but the hiring of defensive coordinator Brian Flores and the potential growth of recent draft picks should inspire some optimism.
Flores’ defense is a polar opposite of the system deployed by Ed Donatell, and perhaps tasking Kendricks with more man coverage responsibilities could help him bounce back from his career-low 46.4 coverage grade in 2022. However, Kendricks may also be viewed as a player who has lost a step now on the wrong side of 30.
Kendricks Has Been Career-Long Starter on Vikings Defense
Kendricks will enter his ninth season in 2023 at the age of 31. He has spent the entirety of his eight-year career up to this point as a member of the Vikings.
Selected No. 45 overall in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Kendricks has been a starter since arriving in Minnesota. He has played in a total of 117 regular season games with the team, earning All-Pro and Pro-Bowl honors in 2019.
For his career, Kendricks has amassed 919 tackles, including 54 tackles for loss, 51 passes defensed, 29 quarterback hits, 15 sacks, nine interceptions, six fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns, per Pro Football Reference.
Vikings Had Questions About Kendricks Prior to Last Season
However, questions about Kendricks’ viability in Minnesota’s defense have been prevalent for the last two offseasons under two different coordinators. When Kevin O’Connell came in as head coach in 2022, he brought along Donatell with a mandate to transition the defense to a 3-4 scheme.
Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber spoke with Paul Allen on KFAN last February and suggested that Kendricks might find the 3-4 scheme difficult due to his lack of size. Kendricks is 6-feet tall and weighs around 230 pounds with a shorter arm length than several of his positional counterparts in the NFL.
So while he was a beast roaming the second level and stepping up to fill holes and make plays with four defensive linemen soaking up much of the blocking, legitimate questions arose about how effective he would be with more second-level blockers engaging him and needing to shed those blockers to make plays.
Kendricks’ pass rush did suffer last season, as he posted just one sack compared to five sacks the year before. However, the concern this season is related to how Kendricks will function in pass coverage as a part of Flores’ scheme.
Beyond that, the Vikings simply have to cut money. So even if O’Connell, Flores and the rest of the coaching staff believe that Kendricks is capable of thriving through the coming defensive transition, he is probably still going to be on the chopping block for financial reasons.