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Should Giants pursue newly-released LB Eric Kendricks?

We know New York needs to improve its linebacker play

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - New York Giants v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

The New York Giants need to upgrade the linebacker position. We’ve gone through several free-agent linebackers this offseason - some affordable, others will be costly - and Eric Kendricks is another name that was just added to the mix. Kendricks and the Giants became quite familiar in 2022, as the former Minnesota Viking played two games against Big Blue.

Kendricks was a long-time leader of the Vikings' defense. He was the 45th pick in the draft back in 2015, and he was an All-Pro in 2019 under former defensive coordinator George Edwards. He just turned 31 years old in February, and an inevitable decline is likely imminent, but can the Giants fill their need for a competent linebacker with a veteran player like Eric Kendricks?

I think it should be explored.

The basics

Age: 31 in the 2023 season
Height: 6-foot | Weight: 232
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 8 seasons
2022 stats: 18 games | Tackles: (101) | Tackles for a loss: (8) | Stops: (42) | Pressures (12) | Sacks: (2.0) | Passes defended: (6) | Reception percentage: (77 percent) | Missed tackles (16, 10.1 percent)

The skinny

Kendricks is coming off of two consecutive one-hundred tackle seasons within former head coach Mike Zimmer, and Ed Donatell’s questionable defense; I call it questionable because of the abundant amount of communication errors that the Vikings suffered in their NFC Wildcard loss to the New York Giants. Donatell ran a match scheme, and many of the secondary pieces seemed unaware of how to pass off or receive routes coming from the opposite side of the field. Donatell was only the coordinator for one season and has been fired.

Mike Kafka and the Giants routinely flared running back Saquon Barkley to the flat, which almost always removed the linebacker from the middle of the field to open up backside drags, slants, and quick stick routes. There didn’t seem to be many adjustments to the relatively rudimentary approach the Giants took.

This is relevant because it’s plausible that Kendricks’ role - and the defense as a whole - did not best suit the skills he still maintains. It’s also possible that the pages left on his career are wearing thin; maybe both are true.

Nevertheless, Giants’ current defensive line coach Andre Patterson has an extensive history with Kendricks. Patterson was the co-defensive coordinator for the Vikings in 2020 and 2021. His focus was on having his defensive linemen absorb climbing blockers to allow Kendricks to use his discernment and reactive ability to make plays on the football.

Patterson is well-respected, and one could surmise that his presence in New York may draw Kendricks to the Big Apple. The interest would likely be mutual; Kendricks was a Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, a team captain, and he left a permanent legacy within Minnisota’s community, according to Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.

Here’s what head coach Kevin O’Connell had to say about the decision to release Kendricks:

It is extremely difficult to start more than 100 games in this league, but Eric has been a staple in the locker room since he entered the NFL. 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. 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. I know he and Ally will have an immediate positive impact on their next team and community.

Kendricks has 7,685 career snaps under his belt. He has recorded 919 tackles, 15 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 9 interceptions, 51 pass deflections, with 102 pressures and 329 stops. Kendricks was one of the better coverage linebackers in the league and had elite Pro Football Focus coverage scores in 2019 and 2020.

His coverage grades were bad in 2022, but much of that could be attributed to defensive confusion. He’s not getting any younger, but he didn’t look zapped of athletic ability in the two games I studied.

Minnesota did not release Kendricks solely based on his play. The move was more salary cap oriented, as the Vikings saved $9.5 million after releasing Kendricks. They still have work to do, for they’re $24.4 million over the cap, so the move was all but necessary irrespective of Kendricks’ play.

At his age, with solid other linebackers in the market, I don’t believe Kendricks will command a big contract. If he were to sign with the Giants, he’d have little resistance earning a starting role in sub-packages - a position he’s thrived in throughout his career.

It would behoove the Giants to add a veteran linebacker like Kendricks who can tutor Micah McFadden and Darrian Beavers. The 2023 NFL Draft doesn’t have many sure-fire linebacker prospects; the class has a lot of athletes who played linebacker, sans Iowa’s Jack Campbell.

Suppose New York wanted to add a developmental linebacker in the draft. In that case, there are few as experienced and reliable with the type of leadership skills, and integrity as Kendricks possesses.

If Kendricks doesn’t command a lot on the open market, I think joining the Giants makes sense for both parties, as long as he doesn't hit Daniel Jones like this ever again:

What do you think, Giants fans?