With Cardinals, Jordan Phillips looks to reframe his career narrative

Apr 8, 2020, 1:49 PM | Updated: 4:56 pm
Jordan Phillips #97 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates a sack against Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tenness...
Jordan Phillips #97 of the Buffalo Bills celebrates a sack against Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans (not pictured) during the second quarter at Nissan Stadium on October 6, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Cardinals surely saw the risk of trading a late-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for running back Kenyan Drake last season.

Though it’s a reasonable cost, they were banking the soon-to-be free agent would tap into his talent by seizing the opportunity as a true No. 1 back — something he’d not been so far in his NFL career. It paid off for Arizona as Drake gashed defenses in eight games to end 2019.

A similar thought process must have gone into signing defensive tackle Jordan Phillips for a reported three years and $30 million this past month.

The new Cardinal has pushed back on the narrative about his career: that as a 2015 second-round pick by the Dolphins, he disappointed in Miami and has only succeeded in contract years.

“To say I had a one-year wonder from this past year is false,” he told Bickley & Marotta of Arizona Sports. “Two years ago, my first year with the Bills, they were also saying the same thing: ‘contract year’ … but nobody noticed because I was only getting 15 to 20 snaps a game. But in those 15 to 20 snaps I was still the most productive and the most efficient guy on the field.

“Then last year also, I went into going back to Buffalo with the expectations that I would be a starter and the team was going to move forward with me, and then they drafted Ed Oliver.”

Phillips replaced Oliver as the starter midway through the season.

Safe to say Phillips has a chip on his shoulder.

Many of the assumptions about his career arc are because of last year’s success. At 341 pounds, Phillips accumulated 9.5 sacks, breaking his previous career-high by 7.5 sacks.

Phillips also posted 13 tackles for loss, a career best by eight, and 16 quarterback hits, beating his previous mark by 10.

Those numbers came, he said, because of the opportunity he had playing on third downs and getting those pass-rushing opportunities from the interior of the defensive line.

In 2019, Phillips played 52% of the Bills’ total defensive snaps, which would have been higher had he not lost snaps to Oliver for the first seven weeks of the season.

“I just had more of an opportunity,” he said during a video conference Monday. “It was the first time in my career being on the third-down group. I had a lot of opportunities to get more sacks and be more productive. Buffalo did a real good job of utilizing my talents and they reaped the benefits of it last year.”

With Arizona, Phillips re-joins 2016 Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who in his first season with the Cardinals shifted his interior linemen about frequently.

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Tuesday that Phillips can play as a nose tackle, as a 3-technique or as a 5-technique on the end of the 3-4 front.

The big payday the Cardinals handed Phillips is a sign they believe he can keep the production up in a larger role. He’s never played more than 54% of his team’s snaps, and it’s notable that high came in his second season with the Dolphins, when Joseph was his DC.

Joseph left to become the Denver Broncos head coach in 2017, and Phillips continued what he believes was improving play into that season.

He doesn’t think people gave him enough credit that year — and haven’t since.

“I can take it all the way to the Miami days,” Phillips told Bickley & Marotta. “Going back to my third year in Miami, I was supposed to get a contract extension after my third year and we were kind of talking and stuff and my D-line coach got fired and it just didn’t work out there anymore. I had a good third year.

“I’ve been dominating people. People around the league know who I am, how hard I play and how physical I am and the dog that I bring to the team and also my room.”

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