Let’s start this one with an exercise:
Name a big play Mychal Kendricks made this past season. It can be a forced fumble, interception, sack, stuff, anything.
Yeah. Nothing really comes to mind.
That’s not to say I dislike Kendricks, because I thought he really was excellent this year, finishing second on the team with 77 tackles behind Nigel Bradham and admirably absorbing the workload of Jordan Hicks, who went down on October 23rd with a season-ending Achilles injury.
Kendricks was a solid tackler, a disciplined and steady and reliable linebacker who attacked anything that made it through the Birds’ defensive line. I don’t know if he was a playmaker, though, with 0 forced fumbles, 0 interceptions, 2 sacks, and 6 stuffs over the past two seasons. There weren’t a lot highlight-reel plays to choose from and he wasn’t the same player who showed flashes of brilliance during the early part of his Eagles career.
The on-field stuff is what it is, but the decision to release Kendricks almost certainly had to do with money. He was set to hit the cap at $7.6 million this year, which would have made him the 7th-most costly player on the roster. League-wide, Kendricks would have been the 29th most expensive linebacker, nestled in the Thomas Davis/Jabaal Sheard/K.J. Wright ballpark. The Birds signed Bradham to a new contract and need to look ahead to 2019, when Hicks will require a new contract and Carson Wentz will need to be taken care of. Brandon Graham is probably in the same boat.
So when Bradham, Hicks, and free agent signing Corey Nelson are locks to make the team alongside special teams ace Kamu Grugier-Hill, Kendricks’ contract just doesn’t make a ton of sense. You’ve also got Nate Gerry, Joe Walker, and Kyle Wilson to go along with the now-injured Paul Worrilow, so the Birds are rolling with their two main guys, Bradham and Hicks, and hoping someone grabs the WILL role by the horns.
And that’s really the key here, because the Eagles rarely operate out of their base defense and often roll with two linebackers in their nickel set. Kendricks only played 33 snaps in the Super Bowl (43% total) because the Birds spent most of the game in nickel and dime in futile attempts to slow down Tom Brady. And in 2016, Hicks and Bradham played the bulk of the snaps while Kendricks only logged 26.79% total.
In the chart below, 2016 defensive snap counts and their percentages are boxed in yellow. Special teams snaps are to the right and the 0% you see relates to offensive snaps:
That was with a fully healthy Hicks, who played 16 games. He and Bradham both logged more than 900 snaps each while Kendricks was sparingly used.
This year, Hicks only played 7 games, which makes the final snap count numbers look like this:
Way up, obviously, with Najee Goode and Joe Walker getting a chunk of snaps as well.
So that was always sort of inevitable, the fact that they were high on Hicks in the middle and had to pay Bradham on the outside. Kendricks, with his beefy salary over on the weak side, was the guy who would go to make room for a cheaper replacement. Of course it would be wonderful to have him around this year, but if his snaps drop back to 2016 levels with a healthy Hicks in the fold, then it’s just wasted money.
Former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho, who now does college football analysis for ESPN, had some more on the behind the scenes discussions between Kendricks and the Birds’ personnel people:
Just talked W/ #Eagles Kendricks. Details of conversation:
•#Eagles asked him to take a pay cut to 1.5M from the 6M he was set to make.
•Played 60% of Snaps & 2nd leading tackler on SB winning team so felt he deserved more.
•Asked to be released or cut pre 2017 season.
— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) May 22, 2018
I mean, I don’t blame Kendricks for wanting to leave. I wouldn’t take that pay cut either. That’s like Kyle asking me to drop my salary from $250,000 to $80,000. Kendricks will do just fine on the open market. If he was really worth that much money, a reasonable trade offer would have come in, but it didn’t.
Whatever happens, it’s been an incredibly weird ride for the 27 year old, who joined the Birds in 2012 as a 2nd-round draft pick. He started well, got paid, and then had his role reduced. The rumors begin, he requests a trade, winds up sticking around, ends up back in the starting lineup, and wins a Super Bowl. Then he’s released three months later.
He had some hamstring and calf issues and missed a couple of games along the way. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, Chip Kelly was fired and the Eagles went back to a 4-3 defense after playing a couple years of 3-4 under Billy Davis. Kendricks wasn’t the most amazing coverage linebacker and got marooned a few times when teams like Seattle threw empty sets at the Birds and looked for mismatches.
So it’s been a really interesting journey for Kendricks, who will quickly find a starting role somewhere out there. He leaves Philly with a Super Bowl ring as a starter on the one of the club’s best-ever defenses, so that’s not a bad high-point to reach during an otherwise bumpy ride.
He was outspoken guy, not afraid to tell it how it is, which some viewed as confidence and others viewed as on overestimation of his abilities. Whatever side you stood on, that trait provided one of his greatest moments as a Bird:
Mychal Kendricks with the dunk pic.twitter.com/1TFnWKVVLd
— Nick Piccone (@nickpiccone) March 8, 2018
“We’re still hurting in Boston, if that makes you feel better.”