MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings can cross another core player off their to-do list for contract extensions.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks became the latest recipient of a new multi-year deal, when he re-upped with the club on Monday. After being drafted in the second round out of UCLA in 2015, Kendricks has led the Vikings in total tackles in each of his first three seasons.
The only other player in franchise history who's accomplished that feat was Rip Hawkins, who did so over his first four years from 1961-64.
"He represents us in a first class way out in the community. He's a leader in the defence. He's a leader in our locker room. His work ethic, his prep that he puts in week in and week out, is why he is such a dynamic player on Sunday," general manager Rick Spielman said. "Hopefully we will continue to add players like Eric as we continue to build this roster and move forward."
During training camp in 2017, the Vikings signed defensive end Everson Griffen, nose tackle Linval Joseph and cornerback Xavier Rhodes to contract extensions to keep them from reaching free agency. Kendricks has one season left on his rookie contract. This deal, according to reports by ESPN and NFL Media, is worth as much as $50 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed.
Up next in the extension queue: linebacker Anthony Barr, wide receiver Stefon Diggs and defensive end Danielle Hunter, all with rookie contracts set to expire after the 2018 season.
"The hype is real. Everybody is super excited," Kendricks said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters. "We're always excited to play football here. I think it's the best locker room I've ever been in. We've got the best defence I've ever been on. I'm just excited to play for this team. With the addition of Kirk Cousins, it's not going to hurt us by any means at all. I'm just excited to see how he can sling the rock. I'm excited to practice against him, especially."
Last season, Kendricks had a career-high 136 total tackles. He has two interception returns for touchdowns since entering the league plus 30 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hurries and 21 pass breakups. Playing the middle spot in the team's base 4-3 scheme and manning with Barr the two linebacker positions in the nickel defence, Kendricks became an instant starter for head coach Mike Zimmer.
As a rookie, Zimmer once said, Kendricks often ran around the field like he had "too much coffee." He has since settled in well and significantly improved his pre-snap recognition of plays.
"I just don't want to be falling off. I'm definitely going to hone in on my craft, whether that's pass rush, my drops, route recognition, things like that. Run game, my first step is always a little bit sloppy," Kendricks said. "Just always getting better. I'm just trying to take it to the next level."
The Vikings announced the deal on Monday, the first day of off-season workouts as players filed in from their winter habitats and many of them saw the gleaming new headquarters for the first time.
"This facility is ridiculous," Kendricks said, later adding: "I don't know where I'm going yet, but I'm going to figure it out. Everything is really nice."
Kendricks kept the extension a secret, even from his parents. His brother, Philadelphia linebacker Mychal Kendricks, was the only one not involved in the negotiations who had the inside scoop.
This has been quite the year for the family, starting with the Vikings-Eagles matchup in the NFC championship game that went Mychal's way and then the Super Bowl big brother won two weeks later.
"That's one of the things that we dreamed of growing up playing this sport, so it's been cool," Kendricks said. "I can't say it makes me any hungrier. I've been hungry. I just know what I want, and I'm going to work to get it."
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