On Monday, Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported that the Minnesota Vikings would be releasing All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks, making the eight-year veteran an unrestricted free agent.
The roster move was subsequently confirmed by the Vikings.
Eric Kendricks Led the Vikings in Tackles 7 Times
Kendricks was entering the last year of a 5-year, $50 million contract he signed in 2018. The roster move saves the cap-strapped Vikings approximately $9.5 million in salary cap space, while resulting in a dead money charge of just $1.93 million, according to overthecap.com.
Kendricks, 31, had been with the Vikings for his entire career, having been selected by Minnesota in the 2nd round of the 2015 draft (No. 45 overall) out of UCLA.
In his eight seasons with Minnesota, Kendricks appeared in 117 games (113 starts), and was credited with 919 tackles (579 solo), including 54 tackles for loss, nine interceptions, 51 passes defensed, 15 sacks, 29 quarterback hits, four forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries, as per Pro Football Reference.
He has started at least 11 games each year and led the Vikings in tackles seven times, with his best campaign coming in 2019, when he was named 1st-team All-Pro. In 2022, he started all 17 games and recorded 137 total tackles.
But despite that level of productivity, it’s hard to imagine Kendricks signing for anything approaching $10 million per year, not at 31 years of age.
Kendricks joins a lengthening list of free agent inside linebackers who could be of interest to the Steelers, a list that includes Bobby Wagner, David Long and Tremaine Edmunds, the latter being the younger brother of Steelers strong safety Terrell Edmunds.
2 Steelers Inside Linebackers Are UFAs
Meanwhile, the Steelers figure to experience significant turnover at the inside linebacker position, as Robert Spillane and former No. 10 overall pick Devin Bush Jr. are both unrestricted free agents, while Myles Jack is a potential salary cap casualty, thanks to his $8 million salary for 2023.
Or, the Steelers could pair Kendricks with Jack as they continue to develop 2022 7th-round pick Mark Robinson and perhaps use a premium draft pick at the position. (The Steelers can save the $8 million by releasing Jack while incurring a relatively modest $3.25 million dead cap charge, according to overthecap.com.)
A lot may hinge on whether the Steelers can re-sign Spillane, who is only 27 and would likely be less expensive than Kendricks.
Both players are strong run defenders and a liability in pass coverage. For his part, Kendricks earned an 81.1 run defense grade and a career low 46.4 coverage grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) in 2022, while Spillane had a 77.3 run defense grade but a woeful 39.5 coverage grade.
That said, Kendricks will no doubt be missed by Vikings fans.
In his statement announcing the termination of Kendricks’ contract, Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said: “As a Pro Bowler and team captain, a Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee and a leader of the Vikings social justice efforts, Eric leaves a powerful, permanent legacy within our organization and the Minnesota community. While he is best known as a playmaker and respected linebacker across the league, Eric’s contributions to the Vikings extend far beyond the field because of his selfless and unwavering commitment to improving societal issues.”
Meanwhile, at least one Vikings observer sees Devin Bush as a potential replacement for Kendricks, as Bush will likely need to sign a short-term “prove it” deal in free agency.