The Green Bay Packers' struggles at inside linebacker have been well-documented this offseason, as the team limped through the 2014 season using a combination of A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, and Clay Matthews at the position. One thing seems certain: Green Bay will need to bolster their depth at that position between now and the start of training camp.
The most logical way to do so would be to use an early pick on a linebacker prospect in the 2015 NFL Draft. Perhaps UCLA's Eric Kendricks would be an option late in round one or in round two of the draft. However, there is one other possibility lingering, and that involves a trade for an established, successful NFL inside linebacker. That player is Eric's brother Mychal Kendricks, currently a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.
What kind of a player is Kendricks?
Like Eric, Mychal is a smallish inside linebacker, but he has been very productive in his three years as an Eagle after they selected him in the second round of the 2012 draft. At the NFL Scouting Combine that year, Mychal measured in at 5'11" and 239 pounds, ran his 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, and put up 24 reps on the bench.
He has been a primary starter all three seasons, playing in 42 of 48 possible games and starting 40 of those. In that time, he has racked up 271 total tackles, including nine sacks, recorded three interceptions, forced five fumbles, and recovered four more loose balls.
If you want more advanced metrics, Kendricks was the 6th-ranked inside linebacker in 2014, according to Pro Football Focus, with a +19.1 grade. He graded out even at 0.0 against the run, but was equally effective as a pass rusher and in coverage at +9.5 each. PFF did credit him with nine missed tackles, but he allowed the fewest receiving yards per coverage snap of any player at the position in 2014. (Note: he did allow the third-most yards per coverage snap in 2013, so either he improved greatly or benefited from offenses attacking other areas last season.)
Why would the Eagles be interested?
In short, Philly has an excess of inside linebackers at this point. They traded for Kiko Alonso from the Bills earlier this offseason, then extended the contract of their other starter, DeMeco Ryans, through the 2016 season. Kendricks will be on the last year of his rookie deal in 2015, and Philly could very well be interested in parting with him for more draft capital.
SB Nation's Bleeding Green Nation took a look at the situation in more detail a few weeks back, and makes a convincing case that Philly is open to, if not actively interested in, moving Kendricks. He also was not present for the first day of Eagles' workouts on Monday, though reports indicate that it is because of a scheduled vacation rather than any sort of displeasure with the Eagles on his part.
The question, of course, is how much the Eagles would want for him. With the trade market in the NFL these days, it seems that a 4th-round pick might be enough to get the job done. This year, the Packers' fourth-round pick is number 129 overall, of course the 30th pick of that round. Another option might be a swap of picks - perhaps giving up #62 in exchange for the Eagles' third-round pick (#84). Let's say for now that it's a fourth-round pick that would get this done, though.
Why should the Packers not try to trade for him?
For one, he is in the final year of his rookie contract. If Green Bay were to trade for him with the intent of keeping him for the long term, they would need to negotiate a new deal. The Packers already have a pair of critical defensive pieces entering their fourth year in the NFL: Mike Daniels and Casey Hayward. They likely will have to shell out a substantial amount of money for those two, so adding a third to the equation in Kendricks might be too high a price tag.
Beyond that, though, a fourth-round draft pick in and of itself is no small compensation. No picks are guarantees, but Ted Thompson has had the kind of sustained success in round four that Ron Wolf did in the third round during his tenure as Packers' GM.
Overall, Thompson's M.O. is obviously to draft and develop his own players, and giving up a mid-round draft pick for one year of Kendricks might be too big a gamble. Imagining him sacrificing one for a potential one-year rental is even more difficult.
Why should the Packers try to trade for him?
Kendricks the player is a solid inside linebacker who has experience as the weak-side linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Sam Barrington could remain at the Mike, and his presence would allow Clay Matthews to move back to the right outside spot. Plus, giving up a mid-round pick for a proven commodity at the position could be a preferable option to reaching for one in rounds one or two.
Second, imagine the scenario if Kendricks does come to Green Bay for one season, then leaves in free agency. Based on the caliber of player that he is (and assuming he would perform reasonably well in Green Bay), he should get a fairly lucrative deal elsewhere during the 2016 offseason. That would then bring back a compensatory pick for the Packers in 2017; if he does excel in 2015, there's a chance that the Packers could get back a selection in the same round as what they forfeited in the first place.
Finally, examine the rookie linebackers who are expected to be available in the middle rounds of the draft. Players like Ben Heeney, Ramik Wilson, or Hayes Pullard might be intriguing prospects, but they're of course no sure things - if they were, they would be gone on day one or day two of the draft.
Likelihood of happening: less than 10%
Let's be honest - as fans, we know Ted Thompson's strategy - he acquires a lot of draft picks so he has more shots at the lottery that is the NFL Draft, he re-signs his own players, and he rarely acquires those from outside the Packers organization. He has had great success, especially in recent years, finding major contributors in round four (think Josh Sitton, T.J. Lang, David Bakhtiari, Mike Daniels), and maybe that track record gets in his head.
It's a fun idea though - using a modest amount of draft capital to pick up a player who will turn 25 in September and who played at a very high level a year ago. What do you think?