Now that the Vikings have added Kirk Cousins to bolster the offense, they are turning their attention to nucleus players on the other side of the ball.
Minnesota signed linebacker Eric Kendricks to a contract extension Monday. The new deal is worth $50 million over five years with $25 million guaranteed, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported, via a source informed of the situation.
The No. 45 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kendricks has emerged as the leading tackler and beating heart of Mike Zimmer's defense. After tallying a career-high 136 tackles (87 solo) in 2017, the former UCLA star became the first Vikings player since Rip Hawkins (1961-1964) to lead the team in total tackles in each of his first three seasons.
Kendricks joins All-Pro safety Harrison Smith, All-Pro cornerback Xavier Rhodes, three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen and two-time Pro Bowl run-stuffer Linval Joseph as defensive stars operating under lucrative long-term contracts. That leaves three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Anthony Barr and talented young pass rusher Danielle Hunter next on the list for new deals.
While that list leaves general manager Rick Spielman with the need to perform financial gymnastics under the salary cap, it's also evidence of his stellar track record as a drafter and team-builder.
After an eighth-place standing in Football Outsiders' 2016 defensive metrics, the Vikings finished behind only the Jaguars last season.
Now that Spielman has added former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sheldon Richardson without losing any part of his talented core, this defense should push for the top spot in the upcoming season.