Vikings cut LB Eric Kendricks to start salary cap purge

Published 1:32 pm Monday, March 6, 2023

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings started their salary cap purge by terminating the contract of veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks on Monday, ending his eight-year run with the team.

The 2019 All-Pro started 113 regular season games — plus six in the playoffs — for the Vikings, who drafted him in the second round in 2015 out of UCLA. Kendricks totaled 857 tackles, 51 passes defensed and nine interceptions. He was voted a captain by his teammates and one of the club’s most active players in community service.

The move saves $9.5 million against Minnesota’s cap, with more trimming before free agency begins next week. The 31-year-old Kendricks had no guaranteed money left on the contract extension he signed in 2018. Cutting him costs the Vikings $1.93 million in dead money.

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The Vikings are high on 2022 third-round draft pick Brian Asamoah, who likely will step into the vacated starting spot. The organization felt strongly enough about Kendricks, their 2020 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for the annual NFL award for community service, that they included farewell statements from general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, head coach Kevin O’Connell and owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf in their announcement.

“During my first year as head coach, Eric played a critical role as a captain and a member of the leadership council in helping establish the culture we want in Minnesota,” O’Connell said in his statement. “He was a consistent mentor to his younger teammates, and his tireless work ethic set a standard for others to emulate. I’m thankful to have had the chance to coach Eric as a player and get to know him as a person.”

After the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the normally soft-spoken Kendricks — who already was a key voice on the team’s social justice committee — became a louder voice of advocacy for societal change. Kendricks directed much of his effort toward the juvenile detention system and the Minneapolis nonprofit All Square that provides mental health support and entrepreneurial development skills for formerly incarcerated individuals.

As a rookie, Kendricks played like he had too much coffee, then-head coach Mike Zimmer said, but he eventually developed into one of the most sound players on one of the league’s best defenses. His breakout season was in 2019, when he was picked as an All-Pro and made his only Pro Bowl.

According to Sportradar data, Kendricks and Bobby Wagner are tied for the most passes defensed by a linebacker over the last eight years. Only Wagner has more tackles than Kendricks among linebackers.

When the Vikings fired Zimmer, replacement O’Connell turned to Ed Donatell as his defensive coordinator. The revamp of the system didn’t go well, and Kendricks — who dropped in pass coverage more often and blitzed far less — was one of the established players who lost some impact in the transition.

Donatell was fired this winter and replaced by Brian Flores.

“We need the leader, we need the football mind, we need the developer and we also need the personnel guy,” Adofo-Mensah said last week of Flores. “He has a really extensive personnel background, so it’s not just about the players we draft this year or in free agency. It’s about reshaping our vision for the roster going forward, not just to compete in today’s NFL, but where it could go.”