Eric Kendricks Relays a Great Mike Zimmer Story in Heartfelt Letter

2 Former Vikings Defenders Find New Teams
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Kendricks will go down as one of the best linebackers in Vikings history.

Unfortunately, he’ll be finishing his career for a team other than the Purple & Gold. After getting released – a widely-expected move given the $9.5 million in cap savings – Kendricks ended up signing with the Chargers. He’ll carry a $4 million cap charge for the upcoming season (which grows to $9.25 million next year).

A Vikings Defensive Exodus May Hurt
Dec 11, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back Jamaal Williams (30) is tackled by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Kendricks put together a letter that’s simply titled “Minnesota” that has been published on The Players’ Tribune. Therein, he articulates how much affection he has for the The North Star State.

He also relays an excellent story about himself and Mike Zimmer, who had a reputation for sometimes being a difficult coach to play for. Take a look at what the former Vikings linebacker had to say about his opening training camp in the NFL:

So early in camp we were running a few plays and I’m trying to direct the defense. I’d only had the playbook for a few days, I wasn’t totally comfortable yet. And we had this play called “Casino.” But I start blanking on the name, I’m freaking out. C…. C…. C…. And the word that pops in my head? Circus. So I just start yelling “CIRCUS! CIRCUS! CIRCUS!” Everybody pauses, looks around. I look at Coach Zimmer and he’s just staring at me like, you remember those Zim stares? Right?? Like he’s about to explode.

He goes “What…. What the F*** is Circus?”

And everybody just starts dying. Dudes are cracking up. Adam Zimmer, our backers coach,  is just going “CIRCUS? CIRCUS? CIRCUS?”

Coach goes, “It’s CASINO.”

Kendricks looks back at the memory with joy. He reminisces about the team dynamic and how they didn’t beat him up for the simple mistake. Great stuff.

Mike Zimmer and Team
Jun 15, 2021; in Eagen, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer looks on during drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

It’s a reminder that for a while, the Zim & Vikings partnership went well.

Once the team decided to fire Zimmer, some Vikings players spoke about the behind-the-scenes from within the team’s building. Kendricks was one such player, noting that playing within a “fear-based” culture is counterproductive:

A culture where communication is put at the forefront and no matter what your role is on the staff, you having a voice and being able to communicate things that you think could help facilitate wins. I think just having that voice, no matter how big your role is, is important, to listen up and take each other’s feelings into account. I don’t think a fear-based organization is the way to go.

In Year 1 with Kevin O’Connell, the Vikings largely reversed their culture. Instead of a heavy, negative sense that weighs on players, the 2022 Vikings team was one that played loose, even when there were struggles.

As most of us know by now, the team took the top spot in the NFLPA player survey about each team’s working conditions. All of the work that the Wilfs have done to offer top-tier facilities has paid off for the players. The effort from Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell to run their team in a particular manner – one that oozes positivity – has also paid off, at least in the short term.

Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings safety Camryn Bynum (24) and linebacker Eric Kendricks (54) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (58) react after New York Jets wide receiver Braxton Berrios (10) drops a touchdown pass late during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Going into 2023, Eric Kendricks will try to get his career re-started in Los Angeles. He’ll be helping Justin Herbert’s Chargers, a team I’ve often thought of as the AFC’s version of the Vikings. With a long history and a ton of talent, the Chargers have found consistent heartbreak and no Super Bowl trophies to show for it.

At 31, Kendricks is nearing the end of his career, but he can still play ball. He had 137 tackles, 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 8 TFLs, and 6 PDs last season. He even scored a TD. The reasonably robust numbers arrived from within an overmatched Vikings defense that spent the majority of the season struggling to shut down any of their opponents.

Kendricks will be remembered as a Vikings great. You can read his entire letter on The Players’ Tribune.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.