And he knew it.
“I was like, ‘Take this moment, look around a little bit and breathe this in because this place has meant a lot to me over the years,’” he said in a recent interview. “And I’m glad I did that because ultimately I signed elsewhere. So I’m glad that I was able to take in that moment and really absorb it.”
Kerrigan’s news elicited heartfelt comments from teammates and fans alike, but by then, his exit was inevitable. He was the subject of trade speculation last fall, and after the draft — after Washington selected two defensive ends in the seventh round — Coach Ron Rivera and General Manager Martin Mayhew made it clear they intended to give both rookies a chance to earn roster spots.
Becoming a free agent for the first time in Year 11 is an experience Kerrigan describes as “weird” and “different,” but he found some familiarity in his next NFL stop. Kerrigan was enticed by his meeting with Philadelphia’s 38-year-old defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon, whose scheme probably will marry principles of his past stops in Minnesota and Indianapolis.
“I didn’t go into free agency saying I want to stay in the NFC East or anything,” Kerrigan said. “ … I was looking for a place where I felt like I could play my best football, where my skill set and my experience both in a 3-4 scheme and a 4-3 scheme could be utilized the best, and I feel like I found that in Philly.”
Drafted 16th in a class loaded with pass-rushing talent, Kerrigan has ranked among the NFL’s finest over the past 10 years. Among defensive linemen and linebackers who have started at least 100 games since 2011, Kerrigan has the fifth-most sacks (95.5), the most interceptions returned for touchdowns (three) and the third-most strip-sacks (19) and forced fumbles (26).
“That was something we preached and harped on at Purdue,” he said of his strip-sacks and fumbles. “We weren’t happy with just getting sacks. … ‘Why not get the football out?’ There are few better feelings than a sack-fumble in the NFL.”
But Washington’s star pass rusher for nine years took on a different role in Year 10. Kerrigan describes last season as “an adjustment” as he became a reserve and played only 397 snaps. Yet he still recorded 5.5 sacks, including two in the season opener against Philadelphia to become Washington’s all-time leader.
Though he said little of it at the time, hitting that milestone was important to him.
“When I was starting to get within striking distance, I still tried not to think about it too much because I didn’t want to play any kind of weird head games with myself and put it too much on a pedestal,” he said. “But coming into the season, knowing I needed two, it was like: ‘Yeah, I want to do this. I’m this close, and I want to get it done.’”
But perhaps the statistic that will be most reflective of Kerrigan’s time in Washington was his 139-game starting streak that ended in 2019 because of a concussion. In his decade with Washington, he played all but four of the team’s 160 games.
It’s a point of pride for Kerrigan, who learned from veterans such as Lorenzo Alexander, Brian Orakpo and London Fletcher about the importance of taking care of his body, using foam rollers, Pilates and massage therapy. Kerrigan elicited the help of multiple specialists to help him stay physically available every week and then tried to pay it forward by passing down those same lessons to younger players.
“I think a lot of it is a reflection of the work you put in day in and day out, so I definitely take pride in that,” he said. “. . . That’s what made working with a lot of the guys, last year especially, so rewarding because they’d ask me and I’d impart what I had. They’d apply it and would say, ‘Oh, I feel good, I feel good doing this,’ and whatnot. It was good to feel like I had taken some of the knowledge and wisdom I had learned over the years and passed it on.”
Kerrigan looks back on his time with Washington fondly despite a trying final season. Though he wasn’t a starter on the field, to Washington’s younger players up front, including Chase Young, his eventual replacement on the line, Kerrigan was revered as “a dude.”
“I loved working with Chase, man. Chase and [Montez] Sweat,” Kerrigan said. “The thing about them is they’re athletic freaks, but they also want to learn and get better. … I had guys when I came into the league that really kind of took me under their wing … so that’s kind of the way of the NFL. You got to help each other out, and I tried to help them out any way I could.”
The relationships and the small moments in the locker room with teammates are what Kerrigan treasures the most, but there are some moments on the field he won’t forget. Such as his debut in 2011, when he returned an interception for a touchdown in a win over the New York Giants.
“My phone just would not stop buzzing, and I just was like, ‘Damn, I guess it’s like this is a big deal,’” he said. “I had never scored in college, so to do that in my first pro game was pretty awesome.”
Or his 2013 strip-sack of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, which meant more to him as a Muncie, Ind., native.
“That was totally wild,” he said. “I even remember my sister texted me afterward and was like, ‘You just sacked Peyton Manning, man,’ and I was like: ‘Yeah! That was awesome, huh?’”
Or the end to the 2015 season, when Washington won its last four games to clinch the division.
“And it wasn’t necessarily winning the division title that year,” Kerrigan added. “It was the group of guys. It was an unbelievable locker room. Some of my funniest, best memories were with that team.”
Kerrigan admits there are some nerves that come with starting anew after 10 years with one team. He said he doesn’t know how long he will play in the NFL, but that he wants to play as long as his body feels good. “I don’t want to play until I feel bad,” he said. “I feel good right now, so I want to keep at it.”
His one-year contract in Philadelphia is in some ways a prove-it deal, which could be difficult for a player of Kerrigan’s stature. But if last season reminded him of anything, it’s that the football business requires adaptation.
“That’s just kind of the way of the NFL,” he said. “No hard feelings, nothing personal, just the way of the business. I think this is a good way to grow, not only football-wise but as a person. You’re in a kind of comfort zone for 10 years where you know everything and have a routine. So this is good that I get to get out and experience something new and have fun doing it.”