49ers Top Signee Abruptly Backs Out of Contract, Bolts to Cowboys

49ers near-signee Eric Kendricks abruptly bolted for the Cowboys

Getty 49ers near-signee Eric Kendricks abruptly bolted for the Cowboys

Well, that was fun while it lasted, no? The 49ers have spent the first few official days of the NFL offseason retooling the front end of their defense, and as part of that effort, they sought to sign some insurance for injured linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the Super Bowl. They landed a nice score on that front, signing Chargers captain and former All-Pro Eric Kendricks.

At 72.3, Kendricks was easily the highest-graded player (per Pro Football Focus) that the 49ers acquired.

And then things went haywire. When it came time to officially sign, late Wednesday afternoon, Kendricks had second thoughts and reversed course, instead signing with the Dallas Cowboys, where the new defensive coordinator is Mike Zimmer, who coached Kendricks for seven seasons while both were in Minnesota.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter broke the news on Twitter/X: “Another change of heart: after agreeing to a deal with the 49ers, former Chargers and Vikings LB Eric Kendricks has decided to go to the Dallas Cowboys instead, per sources. Mike Zimmer wanted Kendricks to help run his defense and Kendricks preferred to play in Dallas.”

Eric Kendricks Getting a Bigger Role With Cowboys

Before Kendricks had originally signed with the 49ers, there had been speculation that he would land with Dallas and reunite with Zimmer. Instead, it seemed, he was prepared to go to San Francisco and reunite with defensive assistant Brandon Staley, who was Kendricks’ coach with the Chargers last season. But the familiarity with Zimmer and the opportunity to take on a bigger role in Dallas was too enticing for Kendricks.

With the 49ers, Kendricks’ role would have been hazy. He’d have been a starter only if Greenlaw was not ready to start the season, which is likely. It’s possible, too, that he would have been a starter for the duration, given the uncertainty of returning from an Achilles tear. Greenlaw might miss all of next season.

Either way, Kendricks would have been second fiddle to 49ers star linebacker Fred Warner. In Dallas, Kendricks will be, without question, front-and-center on a team that badly needs linebacker help.

Kendricks has been a solid performer throughout his nine seasons (eight with Minnesota), and has topped 100 tackles in eight straight years. He had his best season in 2019, when he was a star in coverage—he had 12 passes defended—and was named both All-Pro and a Pro Bowler.

As Pro Football Focus pointed out on Twitter/X, Kendricks has been one of the most consistent linebackers in the league over the last four seasons. The site posted, “Eric Kendricks: 72.1 PFF Grade since 2020 13th among all LBs during that time.”

49ers Cautious With Dre Greenlaw Injury

As for replacing Greenlaw, it is back to the drawing board for the 49ers. It is a weak class of linebackers in the NFL draft, and the team still has hopes for its two 2023 draftees, sixth-round pick Dee Winters and seventh-rounder Jalen Graham.

But there will need to be a veteran who can fill Greenlaw’s shoes for however long is necessary. The pool of free-agent linebackers is already thin, too. It’s possible the 49ers will need a trade to address the spot.

GM John Lynch talked about the uncertainty around Greenlaw earlier this month.

“Achilles, you know, they take some time, right?” he told NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco. “So you’ve got to respect that. Now, having said that, I know that Dre, he’s a special athlete. Those guys tend to heal faster, but I think with an Achilles, there’s just a timeline that you kind of have to give it. You can be ultra-aggressive.

“You also got to be smart. And so we will be.”


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