Heading into preseason, the Eagles were light on linebacker depth. The addition of Stephen Tulloch somewhat filled the void left by an injured Joe Walker, but the fact that none of the Eagles starting three linebackers had stayed healthy for a full NFL regular season remained. Responsibility seemed to be heavier than ever for Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham..but after week one, there seems to be an odd man out.
Mychal Kendricks missed two preseason games with a hamstring injury and as a result saw consequent time in the third preseason game, something Kendricks wasn’t best pleased about. In the fourth preseason game, things went from bad to worse for the 25-year old as he was the only starter to play against the Jets.
This led to a lot of speculation about his role in Schwartz’s aggressive Defense. Although a ruthless pass rush is the name of the game, coverage is a crucial aspect that is often overlooked..and an area where Kendricks, in theory should specialize.
The Eagles have had constant linebacker woes in recent years and Kendricks has easily been the team’s best player at the position. He may not have been the most consistent and inuries may have hampered his play, but when healthy..Kendricks has been a reliable linebacker for the Eagles. It’s that reliability that led to a four-year extension worth $29M last offseason.
In 2015’s 3-4 Defense, Kendricks had a more comfortable role with an extra linebacker softening the pressure. In fact during 2014, he allowed just 0.43 yards per coverage snap. His sideline-to-sideline speed is advantageous, with a 4.47 40-yard dash time making him a player to always be aware of when game-planning and he did play in a similar 4-3 scheme as a rookie..so what was going on?
We may have learned the answer after the team’s 29-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. Kendricks played in just 19 snaps, 37%. Not registering a single tackle, Kendricks was taken out of the game when the Eagles rotated to nickel formations. Doug Pederson addressed the sudden drop in snaps after the game:
“As good an athlete as Mychal is, it’s just unfortunate that we have to take one guy off,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Right now . . . he’s the odd man out and he ends up coming off the field.”
With the Eagles opting to run with another defensive back as opposed to Kendricks in passing situations, it leaves Kendricks to do what he does best. Stuff the run and pick up tackles for a loss. With nine tackles for a loss last season and ten the year before that, it’s clear how Kendricks can help the Eagles and where his strengths lie. It’s just unfortunate that those strengths are needed in a limited capacity under a new regime.
If the Eagles were to move on from Kendricks during the offseason, it would save them $1.8M in cap space. After playing in 51% of snaps in 2015 and signing a long-term deal before the season, the linebacker will understandably be frustrated at his decrease in playing time and could seek a move to a team where he will play a bigger role. This isn’t to say that a move will happen, but for a team craving cap space and assets and a linebacker who evidently wants and deserves a starting role, it only makes sense.
Again, this is not to say Kendricks is a bad player. He’s had some very good games during his time in Philadelphia and that’s reflected by the fact he’s never had a season where he’s completed under 75 tackles.
Kendricks is simply a good player caught up in the wrong circumstance. A circumstance where the presence of middle linebackers, tougher linebackers are more integral to the success of the Defense. Even though the Eagles are light on depth at the position, this doesn’t look like something that will change. Mychal Kendricks will play a limited role in 2016..and it could well lead to another farewell.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports