One of the most important pieces from the Minnesota Vikings’ league-best scoring and yardage defense is sticking around long term. The Vikings announced on Monday that they’ve signed linebacker Eric Kendricks to a multi-year contract extension.
The $50 million total on his deal is the second-most among all inside linebackers, per Spotrac, while the $10 million average annual value ranks fourth and the $25 million guarantee is third.
The No. 45 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kendricks has emerged as the leading tackler and beating heart of Mike Zimmer’s defense. After tallying a career-high 136 tackles (87 solo) in 2017, the former UCLA star became the first Vikings player since Rip Hawkins (1961-1964) to lead the team in total tackles in each of his first three seasons.
Kendrick is likely the first in a string of defenders the Vikings will lock up, as important defenders like Anthony Barr and Danielle Hunter will become free agents after this coming season. Sheldon Richardson and Brian Robinson both only have one year on their deals as well, but they are not necessarily guaranteed to be pieces of the Vikings’ long-term core unless they prove they should be throughout the 2018 campaign.
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With Kendricks, Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, Xavier Rhodes, and Harrison Smith all signed through at least 2021, the Vikings should have a strong defense for a very long time, whether they are able to re-sign Barr and Hunter or not.
While that list leaves general manager Rick Spielman with the need to perform financial gymnastics under the salary cap, it’s also evidence of his stellar track record as a drafter and team-builder.
After an eighth-place standing in Football Outsiders’ 2016 defensive metrics, the Vikings finished behind only the Jaguars last season.
Now that Spielman has added former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson without losing any part of his talented core, this defense should push for the top spot in the upcoming season.
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