In his last three seasons, Mychal Kendricks went from playing 89 percent of the time to 63 percent to 28 percent last year. Meanwhile, the Eagles linebacker's salary rose over that span. This season, he will make more than he ever has, and yet it's possible he may play even less.
Which raises the question: Why is Kendricks still with the Eagles?
If he had his wish, he wouldn't be here. Kendricks divulged Friday that he asked team management as far back as his January exit interview to either release him or trade him. He thought that just might happen two months later, when the Eagles had the option to cut him without having to take a salary cap hit.
"They said I'm young. I'm talented, and they're not into that," Kendricks said of the message he received from the front office then. "I'm sure they were still trying [a trade] at some point in time."
They were, which was one reason the Eagles didn't opt to cut their losses. They had originally told teams that Kendricks was available for a fifth-round draft pick, according to NFL sources. That might not seem like much, but teams balked, perhaps thinking they could wait until the 27-year-old was waived.
If Kendricks was released after March 11 and before June 1, the Eagles would have had to eat $4.8 million of his $6.6 million cap number. That was never going to happen. A trade would have had the same financial ramifications, but at least de facto general manager Howie Roseman would have netted something in return.
A release after June 1 saves significantly more than prior — $5 million — but if that was under consideration the Eagles likely would have done so before training camp. That returns us to the original question of why Kendricks is still on the team.
His role hasn't changed. He's still the third linebacker, a starter in base but an onlooker as Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham play in the nickel package ahead of him. Last season, the Eagles used their nickel personnel, which takes one linebacker off the field for a fifth defensive back, about 70 percent of the time.
With more teams using three-receiver sets, it's possible that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will go nickel more in 2017.
"I'm still going to have an opportunity," Kendricks said, staying positive. "So now you have to make the small amount of opportunities that you get and try to make those 'wow' plays."
From 2013 to 2014, when he was playing 89 percent of the time, Kendricks totaled eight sacks, seven tackles for losses, three interceptions, four forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He had more opportunities to make "wow" plays, and they became his trademark.
Kendricks was drafted to play in a 4-3 scheme similar to Schwartz's, but he thrived in Bill Davis' 3-4 defense in which fellow inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans handled more of the dirty work as he freelanced.
Kendricks' decline began in Davis' last year. There were myriad reasons. Chip Kelly had traded for Kiko Alonso, and the plan was to rotate three linebackers. But Kendricks also couldn't stay healthy. He missed eight games over three seasons to soft-tissue injuries. And there started to be more "Wow, how did he miss that tackle" plays than, "Wow, he's an athletic freak" plays.
Kendricks would later admit that the rotation affected his psyche. When Schwartz was hired it was thought that a return to a downhill 4-3 defense would benefit the aggressive Kendricks and allow him to move to a more natural outside spot. But
Schwartz made it clear early on that he was slow to his scheme.
"It is a little bit new for him," Schwartz said last August, "but it's starting to get toward the end of being new."
It was hard to argue with the decision to play Hicks and Bradham ahead of Kendricks. They combined for three sacks, 11 tackles for losses, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. That's a lot of "wow" plays.
"It's math for us," linebackers coach Ken Flajole said in June. "We go from three linebackers to two linebackers in our nickel package, and if Mike and Nigel were out there you'd be asking me why Jordan Hicks isn't playing."
Hicks and Bradham also played in all 16 games last season. Odds are they won't play in every game this season, which is one possible explanation for keeping Kendricks around. Hicks has an extensive injury history, and Bradham could face league office discipline for two arrests from last year.
But if the Eagles feel comfortable with Najee Goode and Kamu Grugier-Hill and the development of youngsters Joe Walker and Nate Gerry, they may still be inclined to part with Kendricks for the right price. They need to upgrade at cornerback, and they're only an injury away from having to fill another spot.
"There's a million teams out there, and you only got to have one of them that loves you or one of them that likes what you're doing," Kendricks said. "Everybody's up. We're all renting space here, coaches included."
Kendricks declined to say that he was unhappy or that he was frustrated, although he did "plead the fifth" when asked if he would have inked the four-year, $29 million extensive he signed just before the start of the 2015 season.
"This is a game, and I love to play this game, and I still get to play this game," Kendricks said. "And I get paid for it. I try to look at the positive. I'm saving my body. I try to look at things in that type of light. There could be some good out of this situation."
He's 27. He's talented. He's the 10th-highest paid player on a NFL team. But he's slated to play less than most on game days unless something changes.