Kendricks addition bolsters 49ers defense amid Greenlaw uncertainly

Kendricks addition bolsters 49ers defense amid Greenlaw uncertainly originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Dre Greenlaw’s devastating injury in Super Bowl LVIII left the 49ers with a free-agent need they did not anticipate targeting this offseason.

Eric Kendricks, 32, is a nine-year pro who has started no fewer than 11 games every season of his NFL career. He has registered anywhere from 107 to 143 tackles annually since his rookie year.

And, now, he reportedly comes to the 49ers at a time when Greenlaw is going through physical therapy after sustaining a torn left Achilles in the Super Bowl in a freak incident.

The 49ers reportedly agreed to terms with Kendricks in free agency. The Los Angeles Chargers released Kendricks earlier this month due to salary-cap reasons. Kendricks played one season for coach Brandon Staley, whom the 49ers hired as a defensive assistant. The Chargers fired Staley after a 63-21 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders dropped them to 5-9 on the season.

Kendricks was a team captain in his one season with the Chargers after eight years with the Minnesota Vikings.

Greenlaw has teamed with Fred Warner to be a top linebacker duo in the NFL over the past two seasons. Greenlaw got off to a fast start in Super Bowl LVIII, registering three tackles in the 49ers’ first 12 defensive plays of the game. He was hopping up and down on the sideline getting ready to take the field in the second quarter. When he sprung forward, his Achilles snapped.

Coincidence or not, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce caught one pass for 1 yard in the first half. He finished with nine receptions for 93 yards in the Chiefs’ 25-22 overtime victory in Las Vegas.

Kendricks, a first-team All-Pro in 2019 with the Minnesota Vikings, is a proven veteran who figures to line up next to Warner, a three-time All-Pro, for as long as Greenlaw is sidelined.

When Greenlaw is able to return to action — his timetable is unknown at this point — the 49ers will determine how to proceed.

The possibility of lining up with Warner, Greenlaw and Kendricks on base downs provides the 49ers’ defense with an immediate upgrade. The player who held that role the past two seasons, Oren Burks, is an unrestricted free agent.

Kendricks spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area more than a year ago during Super Bowl week, and he said he loved to watch the 49ers’ defense because of how “they’re flying around.” He singled out Warner and safety Talanoa Hufanga.

“Obviously, you got to watch my boy Fred,” Kendricks said. “He’s spastic. You know what I mean? He might jump over somebody. He might knock a lineman down, trip and fall, get up and make a tackle. It’s pretty relentless.

“I’m not even going to talk about his play. I think it’s his attitude. I think it’s infectious for the whole defense.”

Kendricks said he saw the same thing from Hufanga, who had just been named first-team All-Pro after his second NFL season and first as a starter.

“We can see that with (Hufanga),” Kendrick said. “He’s a great player, as well. They’re fun to watch.”

Hufanga is continuing his physical therapy after sustaining a torn ACL in his right knee. He appears to be on pace to open the season back in the starting lineup, most likely, alongside second-year player Ji’Ayir Brown.

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