Isaiah Simmons Traded to the New York Giants: How Did We Get Here?
Bobby traces the path that led to his favorite player getting dealt.
One month ago, I purchased a black, single-digit, Arizona Cardinals jersey of Isaiah Simmons, my favorite player in the NFL. Josh teased me that it would be a throwback by next offseason when Simmons signed with a new team in free agency.
Turns out, we were too conservative in our estimate. When Simmons was traded to the New York Giants yesterday for a 7th-round pick, my jersey became vintage. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good vintage… just not when it comes to my apparel.
As the now one-month-old jersey hangs lonely in my closet, I’m struck by how bizarre it is that the 8th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft was dealt for a pick nearly 200 selections later than what he went. And now with Josh Dobbs being traded from Cleveland to Arizona for that 7th-rounder, you could say Simmons was traded straight up for Dobbs. I didn’t have that on my bingo card for the 2023 offseason.
So, how did we get here?
As you may know if you listen to our show, when Simmons entered the NFL after leading the Dabo Sweeny-led Clemson Tiger for many years, he was one of my favorite prospects in a long time. From the minute he declared, Simmons was considered a top-10 pick. His range and athleticism, paired with his size and stature, had NFL GMs drooling at the prospect of a position-less defender who could roam the field like an angry mercenary. Simmons certainly had the speed to play all over the field: a 9.96 RAS and a 4.39 40. As for comps… well, Simmons had none. After all, most LBs don’t have a 100th percentile 40-yard dash and speed score.
The Cardinals and Steve Keim didn’t waste much time selecting Simmons 8th overall, kicking off the “tall tree” experiment when Zaven Collins was drafted a year later. But with only 376 snaps played in 2020, we had questions about what Simmons could do in 2021. Under Kliff Kingsbury, Simmons’ playing time went up as he logged 1,005 snaps.
Still, with a 51.0 overall defensive grade for the year, the quality of play was clearly lacking at times. We wondered if it could be because Simmons lacked a clearly defined role. He played 378 snaps in run defense, 116 in pass rush, and 511 in coverage, per PFF. While many folks jumped off the bandwagon at that point, I remained hopeful that 2022 would be the year Simmons would finally justify that draft capital.
Last season, Simmons averaged 12.9 PPG by Big 3 Scoring, but his shift to playing more nickel corner put an asterisk on his performance for IDP. I was beginning to wonder if the mess in Arizona would ultimately destroy my hope for Simmons.
We’d heard this offseason that under new head coach Jonathan Gannon, Simmons would be playing a DB role and saw that deployment during the preseason games. This past weekend, we saw Simmons halfheartedly lunge to tackle a backup QB at the goal line and yet again get lost in coverage, this time against rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice. I believe this performance was the breaking point for Arizona.
The trade to New York went down just days later. Enter Wink Martindale and Brian Daboll. Looking at the G-Men’s roster, it’s fair to wonder how Simmons will be used. I know, I know: it’s the same question we’ve been asking Simmons’ entire career.
I didn’t know how to answer that, so I spoke with Kyle Bellefeuill and Joseph Haggen (AKA Joey the Tooth) this morning about the move. Joey asked the question: “Does this mean (Bobby) Okereke is the only true LB and that the Giants want to run 3 safeties? Maybe Simmons gets a roaming role. That would be ideal for him.” Kyle added, “I have faith that Wink will know what to do with Simmons. The roaming role makes a ton of sense, that was when he was his best at Clemson.”
It’s certainly possible Simmons plays that third safety and the Giants use a lot of single LB looks. Neither Micah McFadden nor Darrian Beavers have laid claim to that LB2 role. The recent departures of Julian Love and Jabrill Peppers have left a hole in that secondary, and while we’re optimistic about Jason Pinnock and Dane Belton playing alongside Xavier McKinney, it’s possible Wink wanted some reinforcements in that room. Or it’s possible Wink got enticed by Simmons’ rare athletic ability and convinced his GM that he could find a way to properly utilize him.
For my money, I think the best is yet to come for Simmons. The Cardinals are a rebuilding train wreck of an organization. So getting out of that building is a positive, especially when you land somewhere as stable as New York. And could we ask for a better defensive line for Simmons to play behind? Imagine him rushing the passer alongside Kayvon Thibodeaux, Azeez Ojulari, Leonard Williams, and Dexter Lawrence. If you don’t think that sounds like his game, remember that Simmons’ best PFF grade in 2022 was his 83.5 pass rush grade. He also totaled 4 sacks.
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If you’re off Simmons after being burned by him, I get it. It’s definitely been a bumpy ride. I’m not fired up, but I am cautiously optimistic that Daboll and Martindale will set Simmons up to succeed in ways the Cardinals never did. As for me?
Let’s just say there’s a new jersey on the way.
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