Arizona Cardinals must avoid making same mistake with an ultra-talented linebacker
By Jim Koch
The Arizona Cardinals must avoid making the same blunder with Isaiah Simmons that the former regime did with Haason Reddick three years ago.
Three years have passed since the Arizona Cardinals declined the fifth-year option on linebacker Haason Reddick's first professional contract. The club's first-round draft pick in 2017 (13th-overall) has thrived since he left the desert, and the Cards must now admit that giving up on Reddick was a huge mistake.
Ironically, Arizona may soon be facing the same type of situation with another linebacker they selected with an opening-round choice. Isaiah Simmons, the eighth-overall pick of the 2020 draft, has received mixed reviews for the three seasons he has spent in the NFL. Will the Redbirds elect to pick up the 24-year-old's fifth-year option when that scenario presents itself in 2024?
What the Cardinals ultimately do with Simmons will likely depend on how well he performs in 2023. There have been instances when Jonathan Gannon, the franchise's new head coach, has spoke glowingly about working with the one-time Clemson University product. At other times, the former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator has seemed non committal when asked about what role the versatile Simmons will play in the potential 4-3 alignment.
Reddick, for his part, was misused by three different defensive coordinators during his stint with the Cards. James Bettcher, Al Holcomb and Vance Joseph, for some odd reason, couldn't figure out that the former Temple University star would be best-utilized as an edge-rusher. Actually, Reddick excelled at that spot (12.5 sacks, 63 tackles) while filling in for an injured Chandler Jones back in '20, but Arizona inexplicably allowed him to walk anyway.
Since leaving the Cardinals, Reddick has been downright sensational. In 2021, the 6 foot 1, 235 pounder racked up 68 tackles and 11 sacks in 16 appearances for the Carolina Panthers. Last fall, Reddick was voted to his first Pro Bowl after totaling 49 tackles and an eye-popping 16 sacks in 17 starts for the Eagles.
Isaiah Simmons has done enough to earn a second contract with the Arizona Cardinals
What's being ignored by many of Simmons' critics is the fact that the 6 foot 4, 237 pounder is coming off of a magnificent campaign for "Big Red". In the 17 games he dressed for in 2022, the Nebraska native was credited with 99 tackles, four sacks and seven passes defensed. Simmons also recorded a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned 56 yards for a touchdown during a victory over the New Orleans Saints.
Simmons was outstanding for Arizona's defense in 2021 as well. In 17 starts that season, the fourth-year pro registered 105 tackles, seven pass breakups and four forced fumbles for the Joseph-led unit. The year before that, Simmons tallied 54 tackles, two sacks, a pick and two pass breakups as a raw Cardinals rookie.
Far too often, top draft selections of the Cards never inked a second contract with the franchise. Reddick, of course, is a prime example. New general manager Monti Ossenfort can put an end to that ugly trend by making sure that the same doesn't happen when a decision on Simmons needs to be made.
(Statistics provided by Pro Football Reference)