NFL Free Agency 2023: Should Lions try to sign LB Eric Kendricks?

On Monday, the Minnesota Vikings released veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks after an eight-year career with the team. The move frees up $9.5 million of cap space for the cash-strapped Vikings, and because he’s an acquired veteran, Kendricks is immediately a free agent capable of signing with any team you want. he wants. He doesn’t have to wait for free agency to start, as his contract has already been terminated.

The Detroit Lions find themselves in an interesting position at linebacker. They currently only have Malcolm Rodriguez (23) and Derrick Barnes (23) under contract, and although the two players could be the first two going forward, the Lions could use both some insurance and a some experience in this position.

Chances are the Lions are interested in bringing back veteran Alex Anzalone, who not only knows the Lions defensive system very well but has also developed an important leadership role within the team. It’s unclear, however, how much Anzalone wants to test the market as he’s just had the best year of his career and can only get one more chance for a decently sized contract.

Kendricks is undoubtedly a better player than Anzalone, but he’s also older (31 vs 28) and will likely cost more.

So today’s question is:

Should the Lions try to sign former Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks?

My answer: I’m definitely not against it. Kendricks is only a few years away from an All-Pro season and he’s been incredibly reliable during his tenure with the Vikings. He played at least 14 games in seven of his eight seasons and had at least 100 tackles in all but his rookie year.

In 2019 and 2020, there may not have been a better linebacker in football. He earned PFF ratings of 90.1 and 82.6, respectively, during those seasons, and showed an ability to do it all: stop the run, apply pressure, and even fall into cover (cover ratings from 88.4 and 90.7).

That said, his production has dropped significantly over the past two seasons. Part of that probably has to do with Mike Zimmer’s 4-3 defense transition over the past year, but he’s also coming at an age where his athletic traits are starting to wane, and one of the first places where you see this impact is hedging. Last year, Kendricks gave up a career-high 67 receptions on 87 targets for 694 yards and two touchdowns. Only four linebackers allowed more receiving yards, per PFF. That said, he still had six pass breakups on the season, which is tied for third among linebackers.

It’s fair to wonder if Kendricks would fit perfectly into the Lions 4-2 scheme, but at the same time, you’re not going to find a more cerebral and experienced player to carry the green dot. The Lions could expand and change what they do with their linebackers if they bring Kendricks on board. And while that might take valuable playing time away from their young squad, Kendricks would also easily slip into the role of Anzalone leader.

Kendricks is a former team captain and a Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, so he’s also a perfect fit for the culture.

It’s hard to gauge how much Kendricks will be looking for in free agency, but the Lions should at least find out.

Your turn.

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