Eric Kendricks’ Release Doesn’t Have to Be a Negative Thing

An eight-year run ended Monday when the Minnesota Vikings released linebacker Eric Kendricks. The defender was a Vikings stalwart, especially from 2018 to 2020. But after an impressive run, Kendricks is now free to sign anywhere in the NFL.

Unsurprisingly, the move was met with some sorrow from Vikings fans as Kendricks was truly “one of the good guys” and isn’t terribly old. He’s 31.

Eric Kendricks’ Release Doesn’t Have to Be a Negative Thing

Yet, with a new defensive coordinator arriving — one with a linebacker background — Kendricks evidently wasn’t a priority to retain at his lofty pricetag. Brian Flores will pivot to second-year linebacker Brian Asmoah and a player to be named later if Jordan Hicks is released.

Be a Negative
Sep 30, 2022; Thundridge, United Kingdom; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54 at press conference at Hanbury Manor. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports,

But here’s the deal with Kendricks’ exit — it doesn’t have to be a negative thing.

All things considered, particularly in the playoffs, the Vikings defense was pitiful for a 13-4 team. It ranked 27th leaguewide in defensive DVOA, 30th in points allowed, and 31st in yards allowed. Imagine Minnesota’s 2022 ceiling if it employed an average, good, or elite defense. Minnesota won 13 games in spite of a porous defense — not because of it.

Of course, Ed Donatell’s defense forced turnovers, which was its saving grace. When the Vikings forced turnovers, they won football games. If turnovers were absent, the team lost — plain and simple. The goal is to moderate somewhere between and not rely on bend-don’t-break for prosperity.

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) recovers a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills during second half at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports.

So, everyone emotionally invested in the Vikings wants the team to improve defensively, correct? Well, the way to do that is change. And change comes in the form of uprooting coaches and personnel. What were the Vikings first two big decisions of the offseason? Hiring a new defensive coordinator in Brian Flores and parting ways with Kendricks.

This is the way it works.

In Kendricks’ stead, Asamoah will receive grander responsibility, and another linebacker will run roughshod next to him. But it won’t be Kendricks, whose performance began a decline in 2021 and 2022. The 2022 campaign proved Kendricks was no longer worth a fancy pricetag, as painful as that may be to digest.

after Week 17
Nov 14, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) reaches to stop Minnesota Vikings middle linebacker Eric Kendricks. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports.

Kendricks was absolutely tremendous as a Viking. When his legacy is decompressed, he’ll probably be labeled the fifth or sixth-best off-ball linebacker to don horns on his helmet. That ain’t nothing. But like oodles of Vikings before him — and oodles after — Kendricks’ time arrived to move on. Similar conversations might occur in the coming days about Adam Thielen or Dalvin Cook. This is sports, and nobody maintains a peak level of performance, sans perhaps LeBron James or Tom Brady.

Minnesota needed to get faster, younger, and more affordable to improve the 2023 defense. Kendricks did not own any of those adjectives — at all — as a candidate to return next season.

Along with Asamoah, another player will fill his spot. The “way the Vikings were doing it” on defense wasn’t working. Personnel upheaval was coming. Kendricks was just the shots-fired moment.

You can’t complain about a slow, bend-don’t-break defense and later lament the slow-ish players and bend-don’t-break coach leaving the team.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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