Will Brian Flores Bring Kendricks’ Replacement with Him?

The first domino fell for the Vikings offseason when they announced the release of linebacker Eric Kendricks after eight seasons with the organization. To get under the salary cap, which has to be done by March 15, the Vikings need to make a few more moves.

A contract extension for Kirk Cousins is possible, just like the release or trade of longtime stars like Dalvin Cook and Adam Thielen. One of the oldest teams in the league has to get younger and cheaper, but monitoring how the team will replace the departed players will be fascinating.

Will Brian Flores Bring Kendricks’ Replacement with Him?

Will Vikings Coordinator Brian Flores Bring Kendricks' Replacement With Him?
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Kendricks leaves the organization, and the current favorites to start at the two linebacker spots are Jordan Hicks and Brian Asamoah. However, Hicks is not a safe bet to be on the roster when the new season begins, as the Vikings can save $5 million by releasing the veteran, and he did not play well enough in 2022 to have his spot on the team secured.

Asamoah, meanwhile, a 2022 third-round selection, will be on the team regardless and is expected to make the jump into the starting lineup. He took away some snaps from the veterans late in his rookie campaign and should be ready to go.

If either Hicks is released or Asamoah isn’t ready to fill a bigger role in the upcoming season, the organization would have to add a different body into the linebacker room. There are many options available in free agency and the draft. One replacement could be Kyle Van Noy. The longtime Patriot played for Flores in Miami and New England and is a free agent after the Chargers released him to save cap space.

Browns tight end David Njoku is brought down by Steelers linebacker Devin Bush after gaining a first-half first down Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Cleveland. Brownssteelers 26

Another candidate knows Flores from his last stop in Pittsburgh. 2019 first-rounder Devin Bush will also be a free agent. The linebacker was the 10th overall pick in his draft class but couldn’t fully meet those high expectations. However, he is only 24 years old, so he still has some room to grow.

His career in Michigan was marvelous. He recorded 172 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss, and 10.5 sacks in three seasons with the program and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and Consensus All-American in the same season. The Steelers, including head coach and former Vikings defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin, believed so much in him, they traded up with Denver to secure his rights.

Already having an established relationship with Flores is a significant advantage. Flores knows exactly the limitations, but also the positive traits, of Bush and therefore can use him correctly. Bush played in 52 games for the Steelers and logged 48 starts. He collected 286 combined tackles in those four seasons, picked off two passes, had 13 tackles for loss, and scored once on a fumble recovery.

Dec 24, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Las Vegas Raiders tight end Darren Waller (83) runs after a catch as Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) defends during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. The Steelers won 13-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bush might be one of the cheaper options on the market. His market value is $3 million per season, according to Spotrac.com. The Vikings would get a solid player but likely not a difference-maker. His Profootballfocus grades are nothing to brag about. In 2019, his rookie year, Bush achieved a grade of 62.9 which ranked him 35th of 90 eligible linebackers. One year later, in 2020, Bush missed all but five games with a torn ACL, so his grade is not very meaningful.

The 2021 season was a disastrous campaign for the linebacker, according to PFF. Perhaps not at full strength, he was graded with a 34.4, and only five of 86 eligible linebackers had a worse grade, but he improved that number to 58.8 in 2022, the 54th of 81 players.

While those grades should never be the only data point, it is notable that those specific numbers don’t favor the defender. Bush possesses elite athleticism. At his combine in 2019, he flashed his potential when he ran a 4.43 40-yard dash which was one of the fastest linebacker times ever recorded. Paired with elite 10 and 20-yard splits and a 40.5 vertical jump, his athletic profile is fabulous.

Nov 20, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Samaje Perine (34) carries the ball as offensive tackle Jonah Williams (73) blocks Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) during the third quarter at Acrisure Stadium. The Bengals won 37-30. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On the downside, Bush is an undersized linebacker. His 5’11” height and 234 pounds rank him near the bottom in both categories. Despite that, he is not a liability in the rushing defense and is even a good pass rusher, while coverage is his strength.

It’s unclear how Flores envisions his defense to look like. A linebacker tandem of Asamoah and Bush would arguably be the most explosive duo in the league, but the size deficiencies could be a big annoyance. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t be shocking if the Vikings went that route, as the lack of speed was a big factor in the disappointing 2022 defensive unit.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt