The Arizona Cardinals have declined to pick up linebacker Isaiah Simmons’ fifth-year contract option, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
Arizona had until May 2 to make a final decision on Simmons, who is now likely to test free agency after the 2023 season.
If the Cardinals had picked up Simmons’ option, the linebacker would have earned $12.7 million in the 5th year.
The big question now centers around how new Cardinals defensive coordinator Nick Rallis and first-year coach Jonathan Gannon plan to deploy Simmons in 2023.
“There’s going to be a plan for each of our players,” Gannon said Bickley & Marotta from Arizona Sports in February when asked specifically about the star’s supporter. “Part of that fitness — it’s kind of a loaded word and I understand that — but the way it relates to the players is this: We’ve got to get on the grass and get in the classroom and see what guys can handle and Let’s see what they can do physically, how it relates to how we’re going to structure the offense, defense and special teams.
“But then you really want to find places for guys where they can really thrive in the role they’re in.”
Simmons is coming off his third NFL season in which he had 99 tackles, five of which were for loss, 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.
Statistically, Simmons posted his best year as a pro.
The season was a bit of a roller coaster out of the gates for the star quarterback, who saw his playing time in Weeks 2-3 due to what former coach Kliff Kingsbury called poor practice habits.
Through the first three games of the year, Simmons had just six snaps to his name and logged just 47.3% of the available defensive snaps during that span.
He responded off the bench by Week 4, however, playing in 87% of the team’s available defensive snaps while stuffing the stat sheet at multiple 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 rated at the time, the hybrid Simmons joined the franchise without a clear home.
That will happen when you are coming off a college season that saw you play more than 100 snaps at five different defensive positions.
That left defensive coordinator Vance Joseph with the task of figuring out exactly where Simmons would fit.
As a rookie, Simmons was primarily slotted as an inside linebacker alongside former MIKE linebacker Jordan Hicks. Of his 376 defensive snaps recorded in 2019, 182 came as an ILB, while 104 were spent in coverage as a cornerback or safety.
In 2021, Simmons’ playing time overall increased, though he worked more closely with the safeties during training camp and the regular season than with the linebacker group. He still saw the majority of his defensive snaps inside, logging 573 compared to 185 outside in coverage.
The plan that year was for Simmons and then-rookie Zaven Collins to man the middle of the defense. That was until Hicks was able to take over the starting role from first-year linebacker before the season.
This experiment will have to wait until 2022 after the launch of Hicks and Collins’ growth in the MIKE prop.
The snap count didn’t reflect that sentiment, however, with Simmons seeing 513 of his 897 snaps being covered. He lined up just 274 times at inside linebacker and another 110 at outside linebacker.