Eric Kendricks should be a Bears' priority
Matt Krohn - USA Today Sports

Eric Kendricks should be a Bears' priority

by - Senior Writer -

When the Bears underwent all their defensive changes a season ago, you knew they would face tough decisions. One of those decisions was letting their defensive leader Roquan Smith go as he was traded to the Baltimore Ravens mid-season. To make matters worse, the Ravens then turned around and gave him a five-year 100 million dollar extension as he is locked up into his 30s.

Of all the draft picks that Ryan Pace made during his tenure, Smith has to be regarded as the best when it comes to the production he brought with him. In his five seasons thus far, Smith has had more than 100 tackles in each season and several seasons over 150 tackles. He also set a Bears franchise record in tackles during the 2021 season and led the NFL in that category.

Losing that type of production will be difficult to replace, and the Bears need someone like him on their roster right now. In fact, when you look at the free agent market, up until Monday, there were few options for LBs that could give you anywhere close to that production.

Well, there is now, and the Bears need to make this their top priority if they are going to target a defensive player this summer, as former Minnesota Viking MLB Eric Kendricks has been released after eight years with the team. A stable force on the Vikings defense for the past eight seasons, Kendricks has played at an all-pro level and has had seven consecutive seasons with 100 or more tackles.

That includes this past season despite the Vikings defense being one of the worst units in football. Kendricks was not part of that problem, as he did his part on the field and even missed a few games with minor injuries. He may not give you quite the production Smith would, but he is as consistent as they come and would be the perfect veteran leader for this young defense.

A second-round pick out of UCLA in 2015, Kendricks immediately emerged as a defensive leader and has been the lone consistent player on the Vikings defense ever since. He, along with Harrison Smith, are the longest-tenured Vikings on the defensive side of the ball, and there is a reason why they have been part of the franchise as long as they have been.

Through his eight seasons with Minnesota, Kendricks averaged over 100 tackles per season and has accumulated 919 career tackles. While that aspect of his game is excellent, there are many more things he does well that often don't show up on the stats sheet.

Kendricks has added 15 sacks across his career, 53 pass deflections, four forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, nine interceptions, and even three defensive touchdowns. He is the definition of a defensive playmaker and one that the Vikings will miss.

At 6-1 and 232 pounds, many people felt Kendricks was undersized to play the LB position at an elite level. While that may be the case in some aspects, he makes up for that with his natural instincts and pure athletic ability. This guy ran a 4.61 in his 40-time, one of the fastest times ever recorded by a LB.

Given how shocking of a release this was, there are some questions about why the Vikings moved on from him, especially when he was in the middle of a recently signed extension. Some point to his age and knowing he will be 31 this season. Some point to the recent injuries and the possibility of his production taking a hit.

None of that is accurate, as this decision was made for one reason, CAP RELIEF. The Vikings are in a horrible cap situation and will be faced with many tricky situations this offseason to try and create more space. This was one of the decisions they had to make, and it now frees up 20 million in cap space for the Vikings.

While there is a chance Minnesota and Kendricks will remain in talks to potentially ink a new contract, the Bears can't let that happen. They need a playmaker and a leader on defense, and that is what Kendricks is. A 31-year-old LB is not ideal, but he has been very durable since breaking into the league and has a few good years left. If he would be willing to sign a three-year deal in the 25-30 million range, it becomes a no-brainer, as his addition would instantly make the Bears defense better.

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