Vikings Starting LBs Could Be on Their Way Out

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The Minnesota Vikings hired the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach, Brian Flores, in February to lead the 2023 defense, and he might revamp the team’s LB room.

Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks started in 2022, as the Vikings finished 13-4 and won the NFC North for the first time since 2017 despite the league’s second-worst defense per yards allowed to opponents. Many pundits and Vikings fans foresee defensive change this offseason, perhaps foremost at linebacker.

Vikings Starting LBs Could Be on Their Way Out

Even more telling were general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s words at the NFL Combine this week.

Vikings Starting LBs Could
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Adofo-Mensah was asked about linebackers in front of an NFL Combine microphone, and he replied, “It’s a position, just like every position we look at. We have a lot of confidence in Brian Asamoah, who is also in that room. Troy Dye is a very good player. William Kwenkeu has shown some really good things on special teams.”

“We’re going to take a look, just like we do at every position. But we have decisions to make, just like every other team,” Adofo-Mensah concluded.

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Do you see the words Kendricks or Hicks mentioned anywhere in Adofo-Mensah’s response? Nope. The young executive basically listed every linebacker on his depth chart except the two men who started in 2022. While there’s a chance he merely forgot, Adofo-Mensah seemed to pave a path for life after Kendricks and Hicks.

Why would the Vikings part ways with two starting linebackers? Simple — age and money. Kendricks and Hicks will be 31 next season, and releasing the pair would save the Vikings $14.5 million. And that $14.5 million could theoretically be used to sign a top-tier off-ball linebacker via free agency in two weeks to pair with second-year defender Brian Asamoah, who was name-dropped by Adofo-Mensah.

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The Vikings are $24 million over the cap with 12 days before the NFL’s “legal tampering” phase of free agency begins. The organization is expected to clear space — like, real soon — and cutting ties with two aging linebackers feels like the common-sense approach to help wiggle under the cap.

Kendricks and Hicks did not perform poorly in 2022, but Minnesota’s defense lacked speed, and the deficiency was displayed when the New York Giants bounced the Vikings from the postseason in the Wildcard Round. The linebackers referenced by Adofo-Mensah do not lack speed, and Asamoah especially is renowned for freakish athletic tendencies.

Two weeks ago, Pro Football Focus predicted cap casualties for every NFL team, and for the Vikings, that man was Kendricks. PFF’s Brad Spielberger wrote, “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.”

And with Adofo-Mensah not citing either of his starting linebackers, Spielberger might be correct.

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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