COSTA MESA, Calif. — To this point, the Chargers have signed one player who wasn’t on the team previously, linebacker Eric Kendricks from the Minnesota Vikings.
After spending nine seasons in Minnesota, he signed a two-year deal with the Chargers during free agency. Returning to Los Angeles after playing football at UCLA is a plus for the former all-pro, but he believes in what Brandon Staley and his staff are building.
“Honestly, they’re a good team,” Kendricks said. “They’re contenders, they have a good quarterback, a great coaching staff.”
Staley reached out to his newest linebacker and spoke for over an hour and a half. They were getting to know each other, and Staley explained how he fits into the defensive scheme.
Monday was the first day of off-season conditioning for players. Kendricks was present along with edge rusher Khalil Mack, defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, and center Corey Linsley, to name a few.
“Today, it was like I was the new kid in school,” Kendricks said. “It was a little bit nerve-wracking for me. It feels good.”
As the players did their exercises and stretches, it was immediately noticeable that Kendricks was working with Mack. They were former divisional rivals when Mack was with the Chicago Bears and Kendricks with the Vikings.
“I remember just seeing him from the sideline and seeing how big he was, and just being like, ‘How do you even get that big just from genetics?'” Kendricks joked. “I’m glad he’s on my team now. I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
The Chargers let Drue Tranquill leave in free agency and brought in Kendricks to fill that role. His numbers pop off the page because he rarely misses games, is a tackling machine, makes plays, and is best known for his leadership.
“A lot of experience, a lot of play-making ability,” Staley said. “He’s been at the heart of one of the top defenses in the NFL his entire career. He’s a very complete player, and he’s also one of the best leaders that you’re going to be around. I’m excited about joining up with him.”
He has already started to build a relationship with Kenneth Murray, who will line up next to him at linebacker. They went to “Formula Drift” in Long Beach together and bonded over cars, which interests them both.
Kendricks’ addition should help Murray with his development.
During Staley’s tenure, the free agents that the team have signed are players he has faced, or he has familiarity with from his past coaching stops. Linsley was a demolition man against Staleys’s Rams defensive line in the Divisional Round in 2021. The Chargers signed him.
Add Kendricks to that list.
“What he did in Minnesota, I got to witness firsthand because I was in the division when I was in Chicago, and played him when I went to Denver and played him as a head coach here,” Staley explained. “Some of my best friends have been a part of coaching him. Watching him from afar, just the level of respect that I’ve had for him, not just as a player, but as a leader – Walter Payton Man of the Year, you’re talking about the highest caliber that you could join up with.”
In 2021, the Vikings faced the Chargers at SoFi Stadium, and Kendricks was a headache. He had a sack that he shot through, which made Justin Herbert hesitate, then brought him down. Later in the game, he was covering receiver Keenan Allen and was able to intercept Herbert.
Kendricks has over 900 tackles, 15 sacks, and nine interceptions. He is looking to make an impact with his new defense along with the superstars on the defense.
“This is my ninth year in the league,” Kendricks said. “I’ve seen a lot. I’ve done a lot. Hopefully, my experiences can help everybody else around me. Like I said, I’m not pushing for that. I’m just going to come in here, be myself and play the game that I love to play.”
Nuts N’ Bolts
- Chargers have re-signed receiver Jalen Guyton.