The puzzling career of Mychal Kendricks gains another odd chapter
The former Eagles linebacker got off to a great start, went into a sharp decline, then was a stalwart of the Super Bowl team, before being released this spring.
The first few years after the Eagles drafted Mychal Kendricks in 2012's second round out of the University of California, no one doubted that he was the best linebacker they had selected from the college ranks since Jeremiah Trotter in 1998.
Kendricks — who pleaded guilty Thursday to participating in an insider trading scheme — was a little shorter than ideal, at 6-foot and 240 pounds. But he was powerful and fast. Though Kendricks excelled in blitzing, coach Andy Reid's regime envisioned him blanketing opposing tight ends in pass coverage, something that had been a persistent Eagles problem. In 2013, under Chip Kelly, Kendricks totaled four sacks, three interceptions, six quarterback hurries, four fumble recoveries and 137 tackles, and he probably should have made the Pro Bowl.
Kendricks was offended that he did not, telling reporters he thought he was the best inside linebacker in the NFL. It was a good year, but eyebrows shot up. Best inside linebacker in the NFL? This seemed naive at best.
>>PHOTO GALLERY: Mychal Kendricks through the years
The next year, coaches began taking Kendricks off the field in some situations because he had not fulfilled that pass-coverage promise. He did not play instinctively in coverage, often seeming confused. When Jim Schwartz took over the Eagles defense in 2016, Kendricks started only half the games and played just 27 percent of the defensive snaps. He was openly unhappy with his role, and the Eagles tried to trade him in the offseason.
It turned out it that it was good that they didn't get an offer they liked because Kendricks became one of the heroes of the Super Bowl season, stepping in alongside Nigel Bradham after Jordan Hicks was lost for the season with an Achilles tendon tear on Oct. 23. His total of 59 percent of the regular-season defensive snaps was his highest since 2014, and he played 62 percent of the playoff snaps.
But it was apparent that, with the Eagles tight against the salary cap and Hicks projected to return to health, the Eagles weren't going to keep Kendricks in 2018. His salary-cap number would have been $7.6 million. They asked him to take a huge pay cut, to about a quarter of that, and when he declined he was released. Kendricks signed with the Browns for a year and $3.5 million.
Eagles teammates respected Kendricks' physicality. But after Hicks arrived in the 2015 draft, he became the heir to leadership of the linebacking room, a role held by DeMeco Ryans until his release in 2016.
Kendricks was already a hot social-media topic before the charges were announced. On Tuesday night, HBO telecast its latest episode of Hard Knocks, filmed at the Browns training camp. As the team prepared for its preseason game against the Eagles, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams asked Kendricks to tell his teammates what the Eagles do on offense and why and how they do it. Kendricks didn't really do that, at least in the segment that was aired. Instead, he offered his thoughts on the weaknesses of quarterback Nick Foles, left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai and tight end Zach Ertz.
Kendricks said Foles tended to drop long balls onto receivers, with a high trajectory, instead of lasering them. You could read that as a criticism of Foles' arm strength. His assessment of Vaitai was both blistering and prophetic, given Vaitai's disastrous night in Cleveland, matched against emerging pass-rush superstar Myles Garrett. Kendricks said Vaitai didn't trust his feet and was really only a serviceable player because of his 6-foot-6, 320-pound size. He said Vaitai's confidence could be easily eroded.
More surprising were Kendricks' remarks about Ertz, the Eagles' Super Bowl hero who kept the winning drive alive with a tough fourth-down catch and then laid out for the game-winning touchdown. "Eighty-six, I think, is the best receiver on the team. Notice I said 'receiver,' " Kendricks said. "When it comes to blocking, you … hit his [butt] over and over. He don't want no smoke."