The Arizona Cardinals linebackers were a bright spot in 2020 and they could remain a bright spot in 2021. While the Cardinals struggled to stay healthy on the defensive line and in the defensive backfield, both the inside and outside linebackers remained the strong suit of the defense.
It started with Haason Reddick. He looked like a bust when the team tried to convert him to the inside for three seasons. But in 2020, the Cardinals moved him back to outside linebacker and he responded with monster numbers, recording 61 tackles, 12.5 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles. Reddick is a UFA, so the Cardinals must look into re-signing their breakout player.
But the fun didn’t stop with Reddick. Dennis Gardeck played a monster role as a pass rush specialist when Chandler Jones went down for the season. He played fewer than 20 percent of the time on defense, but still notched 7 sacks. An RFA, the Cardinals must keep him around.
Markus Golden returned in a trade with the New York Giants. He logged 3 sacks in 9 games with the team and is also a UFA. He probably only returns if the Cardinals let Reddick walk.
Devon Kennard was the bust. After logging 14 sacks between 2018 and 2019, he had just 15 tackles and 3 sacks in 13 games. He’s signed through 2022, but the Cardinals may look elsewhere.
De’Vondre Campbell started all 16 games and recorded 99 tackles. A force in the middle, he’s also a UFA. His return hinges on how the Cardinals feel about Isaiah Simmons. Simmons struggled early, but finished with 54 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception that set up a game-winning field goal. If the Cardinals feel he’s a full-time starter in 2021, he’ll take over for Campbell.
Signed through 2022, Jordan Hicks logged 118 tackles. He started all 16 games and continues to play at a high level. Whether he has Campbell or Simmons beside him in 2021, the Cardinals will still have a dynamic duo of inside linebackers.
Tanner Vallejo had a huge game in week 17. But he’s also a UFA and there’s no guarantee the Cardinals keep him. Evan Weaver signed a futures deal and after a redshirt year, his role may grow in 2021.
Overall, the Cardinals had a great unit in 2020. But with many slated to leave as unrestricted or restricted free agents, it’s unlikely the crew sticks around. However, they have enough depth plus the looming return of Chandler Jones that should keep the group afloat in 2021.
Look for the Cardinals to try and hold on to as many puzzle pieces as they can without breaking the cap. It’s hard to keep everyone, but with Jones returning and Simmons’ role growing, the unit will remain in decent shape.