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Why did Eric Kendricks sign with the Cowboys? Free agent LB spurns 49ers after reported deal | Sporting News

The Cowboys were extremely quiet during the early days of NFL free agency. They watched several of their free agents defect for other teams while only retaining their long snapper, Trent Sieg.

But on Wednesday, Dallas finally made a move. The Cowboys signed veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks, a 32-year-old who spent the 2023 season with the Chargers.

Kendricks filled a void at linebacker for the Cowboys, so his signing made sense.

That said, some were wondering exactly how Dallas got Kendricks. Why? The 49ers reportedly agreed to terms to sign the veteran linebacker Wednesday as a temporary replacement for the injured Dre Greenlaw.

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That reminds NFL fans — and 49ers fans in particular — that free-agent agreements are never official until they are signed.

Why did Eric Kendricks spurn the 49ers?

The short answer is that Kendricks spurned the 49ers because he could. While the two parties had agreed in principle to a one-year deal that would bring Kendricks to the Bay Area, he hadn’t yet officially signed the contract.

That opened the door for another suitor to swoop in. The Cowboys did, leaving the 49ers at the proverbial altar, pen in hand.

Such situations do happen occasionally during free agency, and with good reason. Players can’t officially sign contracts during the NFL’s two-day negotiating period, so they sometimes switch allegiances. Whether it’s a better offer or a desire to stay put, players can be influenced ahead of the start of the league year.

An example of that from 2024 would be kicker Wil Lutz’s decision to re-sign with the Broncos after initially agreeing to terms with the Broncos. Lutz didn’t explain his decision in depth, but his familiarity with Sean Payton and being able to kick in the thin Denver air may have been part of the appeal.

That said, Kendricks wasn’t a typical free agent. He was released by the Chargers on March 5, so he was free to sign a contract immediately. He didn’t have to wait until the start of the league year at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday to put pen to paper.

Still, the 49ers lost him to the Cowboys, and it’s likely the same reason the Jaguars lost Lutz to the Broncos.

MORE: Best NFL free agents still available by position

Why did Eric Kendricks sign with the Cowboys?

Kendricks’ decision was a simple one. He preferred to play with the Cowboys, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and was granted the opportunity to do so.

Kendricks spent his first seven seasons playing linebacker in Mike Zimmer’s defense for the Vikings. He enjoyed his best seasons under Zimmer — including an All-Pro campaign in 2019 — so with Zimmer taking over for Dan Quinn as Dallas’ defensive coordinator, a reunion between Zimmer and Kendricks made sense.

The Cowboys needed linebacker help with second-year player DeMarvion Overshown coming off a torn ACL and Leighton Vander Esch dealing with a neck injury that could be career-ending. Damone Clark and Markquese Bell were projected as the starters, but now Kendricks slides in as a stopgap starter in front of Bell.

Kendricks had a similar starting opportunity with the 49ers, but it was only temporary, as Dre Greenlaw may not return from a torn Achilles during the 2024 NFL season. But if Greenlaw did get healthy, Kendricks would eventually cede his starting role.

Thus, Kendricks’ decision to join the Cowboys is sensible.

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Eric Kendricks stats

Kendricks is a rock-solid middle linebacker and has recorded at least 100 tackles in eight consecutive seasons. He thrived in 14 games for the Chargers last year, racking up 117 tackles, 3.5 sacks, six pass defenses and a forced fumble.

Below is a look at Kendricks’ year-by-year stats from his career:

Year Team Tackles TFL Sacks INTs Pass defenses
2015 Vikings 92 8 4.0 0 1
2016 Vikings 109 9 2.5 1 9
2017 Vikings 113 10 1.0 1 6
2018 Vikings 108 3 1.0 2 7
2019 Vikings 110 4 0.5 0 12
2020 Vikings 107 4 0.0 3 6
2021 Vikings 143 8 5.5 2 4
2022 Vikings 137 8 1.0 0 6
2023 Chargers 117 7 3.5 0 6

If Kendricks can continue to be a high-end tackler who is solid in coverage, Cowboys fans should be happy with the team’s investment in its linebacking corps.

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