Cardinals decline to pick up Isaiah Simmons’ 5th-year option

May 1, 2023, 4:21 PM | Updated: 6:24 pm

Arizona Cardinals Isaiah Simmons...

Arizona Cardinals star backer Isaiah Simmons. (Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

(Jeremy Schnell/Arizona Sports)

The Arizona Cardinals have declined to pick up linebacker Isaiah Simmons’ fifth-year contract option, confirms Arizona Sports’ Tyler Drake.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport was first to report the decision by the Cardinals.

Arizona had until May 2 to make a final decision on Simmons, who will now likely test free agency following the 2023 season.

It also remains possible that the Cardinals could re-sign him to an extension at some point.

If Arizona would have picked up Simmons’ option, the linebacker would have made $12.7 million in Year 5.

The big question now centers around how new Cardinals defensive coordinator Nick Rallis and first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon plan to deploy Simmons in 2023.

“There’ll be a plan for every one of our players,” Gannon told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta in February when asked specifically about the star backer. “Part of that adaptability — it’s kind of a loaded word and I understand that — but how it relates to players is this: We need to get on the grass and get in the classroom and see what guys can handle and see what they can do physically in how it relates to how we’re going to structure the offensive, defense and special teams.

“But then you really just want to find spots for guys where they can really thrive in the role that they’re in.”

Simmons is coming off his third NFL season where he racked up 99 tackles, five of which were for losses, to go along with four sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defensed, two forced fumbles and four QB hits in 17 games played (13 starts). He also returned a pick for a touchdown.

From a stats standpoint, Simmons posted his best year as a pro.

The season was a bit of a roller coaster right out the gates for the star backer, who saw his playing time dip in Weeks 2-3 due to what former head coach Kliff Kingsbury called poor practice habits.

Through the first three games of the year, Simmons had only six tackles to his name and registered just 47.3% of the available defensive snaps during that span.

He responded from the benching through Week 4 on, though, playing in 87% of the team’s available defensive snaps while stuffing the stat sheet across numerous positions.

Simmons entered the league with the Cardinals as the eighth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Viewed as “one of the most unique” players former Cardinals general manager Steve Keim had ever evaluated at the time, the hybrid Simmons joined the franchise with no clear-cut home.

That’ll happen when you are coming off a college season that saw you play more than 100 snaps at five different positions defensively.

That left defensive coordinator Vance Joseph with the task of finding where exactly Simmons was going to fit.

As a rookie, Simmons was deployed mostly as a inside linebacker alongside former MIKE backer Jordan Hicks. Of his 376 defensive snaps registered in 2019, 182 came as an ILB, while 104 were spent in coverage as a cornerback or safety.

In 2021, Simmons’ playing time as a whole increased, though he did work more closely with the safeties during training camp and the regular season as opposed to the linebackers group. He still saw a majority of his defensive snaps on the inside, registering 573 compared to 185 out in coverage.

The plan that year was for Simmons and then-rookie Zaven Collins to control the middle of the defense. That was until Hicks managed to grapple the starting role back from the first-year linebacker ahead of the season.

That experiment would have to wait until 2022 following the release of Hicks and Collins’ growth at MIKE backer.

The snap counts did not reflect that thinking, however, with Simmons seeing 513 of his 897 snaps coming in coverage. He lined up just 274 times at inside linebacker and 110 more at outside linebacker.

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