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How Cards Should Protect Reddick and Gardeck

Philadelphia Eagles v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

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GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 20: Dennis Gardeck #45 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a first quarter sack of Jalen Hurts #2 of the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona.

Zach Allen, Dennis Gardeck and Haason Reddick (left to right), the three Cardinals celebrating Gardeck’s sack during the last game that the Cardinals won in 2020, are key cogs to the team’s present and future success as a relentless, high pressure, playmaking defense.

Zach Allen is signed on his 3rd round rookie contract for another two years.

Dennis Gardeck is a restricted free agent who in copious ways was one of the principal catalysts to lead the Cardinals to an 8-6 record in the games he played. Clearly, once Gardeck “The Barbarian” was lost to the season due to a torn ACL, the energy and overall aggressiveness of the team during the last two very disappointing games was not nearly as tangible.

Haason Reddick, now set to become an unrestricted free agent, had to overcome three years of being miscast as a 34 WILB, plus the team’s decision to sign Devon Kennard to a 3 year $21M deal to be the new starter at SAM OLB,. However, by week 3 of the 22020 season, Reddick made it clear that he is perfectly suited to play the multi-dimensional SAM position in Vance Joseph’s version of the 34.

If you wisely spend the next two minutes to watch Haason Reddick’s and Dennis Gardeck’s extraordinarily high level of play in this highlight video of the Cardinals win over the New York Giants, you will understand that when pass rushers show the kind of quickness and explosiveness that Reddick and Gardeck displayed in this game, other teams are going to make very strong pushes and financial commitments to sign them.

You just watched what 31 other GMs in the NFL have already watched this off-season. Guaranteed.

Every GM in the NFL is enamored with pass rushers. And, as every GM knows, excellent pass rushers do not grow on trees. That’s why the “creme de la cream” of pass rushers get gobbled up in the 1st round of the NFL draft whenever the prospects have displayed superb quickness and explosion on game film.

The best scenario for the Cardinals this off-season is to sign Haason Reddick and Dennis Gardeck to 3-4 year deals that are backloaded and chock-full of incentives. That would make it easier for the Cardinals to hold on to BANDIT OLB Chandler Jones for the final year of his contract —- which also would give the Cardinals a comfort zone for not having to rush Dennis Gardeck back into action too soon.

Reddick and Gardeck check all of the boxes in terms of their work ethic, their character, their passion for football, their hustle and their ability to make big plays. In essence, they are precisely what GMs and coaches look for in CORE players. Plus, and best of all, by virtue of their speed, they are the kind of in-vogue linebackers/pass rushers that all of today’s NFL teams covet.

Let’s not forget that the Cardinals were able to recover nicely from losing Chandler Jones in Week 5 because Haason Reddick and Dennis Gardeck combined for 19 12 sacks, 74 QB pressures and 6 forced fumbles.

Imagine then a Cardinals’ 34 defense moving forward where Haason Reddick, Dennis Gardeck an Isaiah Simmons are 3 of the 4 linebackers.

The biggest challenge for the Cardinals and the players’ agents is being able at this point to assess their market values.

In Hasson Reddick’s case, other teams are not going to hold it against him that it took the Cardinals 4 years to play him at his most natural position. Nor should they. The tapes speak for themselves.

Last year Steve Keim pushed his chips to the middle of the table to re-sign left tackle D.J. Humphries to a 3 year $43.7M contract with $29M guaranteed and were able to have him count as only $5.74M against the 2020 cap.

Some fans and pundits could argue that the potential red flags on D.J. Humphries last year were more daunting because of his injury history and the fact that he had yet to prove himself as one of the top left tackles in the NFC. But, Steve Keim bet on the player and on the player’s talent.

That’s what Steve Keim should do with Haason Reddick this season by signing him to the exact same contract —- which is fitting because the total money is at Reddick’s jersey number of $43.

The fact is, every team is eager and willing to sign their left tackles and their best edge rushers to these kind of a contracts.

D.J. Humphries not only responded to his contract by emerging as a team captain, he responded by posting the highest offensive PFF grade on the team, tuning in his best season as a pro and valuing his name into the Pro Bowl conversation.

However, if the Cardinals and Haason Reddick’s agent would prefer that he play like D.J. Humphries did in 2019 on the franchise tag in order to make his market value more distinct, then that’s the second best scenario for the Cardinals. This year’s franchise tag salary for LBs is $15.27M.

One could ask, well why not sign Reddick to the transition tag ($13.21M) and save $2M?

The reason why the Cardinals would be much wiser to use the franchise tag on Reddick is that if some team offers Reddick a lucrative contract that is front-loaded (knowing that this would make it much more difficult for the Cardinals to match) and then the Cardinals are not able to match it —- the Cardinals receive no compensation in return. Whereas, any team that signs Reddick to a contract while on the franchise tag would have to give the Cardinals two 1st round picks.

Huge difference. Well worth the extra $2M, especially when the team’s primary intention is to keep the player.

Last year the Cardinals felt pretty safe placing the transition tag on RB Kenyan Drake because they did not believe that any other team would offer Drake more per year than the $8.7M he was receiving on the tag.

But, with Haason Reddick, if he is on the transition tag, the interest in him is going to be robust. Guaranteed. And in that scenario where teams can offer big money without having to offer any compensation in return, the Cardinals would be putting themselves in a potentially tenuous situation.

One other thought on Haason Reddick. If the Cardinals don't re-sign him, who then plays the SAM? The only other linebackers who bring similar athleticism, flexibility and speed to the position are Isaiah Simmons and Dennis Gardeck (who probably will mis at least the first 6-8 games).

In Dennis Gardeck’s case, as an undrafted player who by year three was elected captain of special teams and has become a fan favorite, his value as a leader is a clear indication why he is a CORE player well worth keeping.

But, in some ways, Gardeck’s market value is more difficult to measure based on his unfortunate ACL injury and the question as to whether he can evolve into a full-time, highly productive edge rusher. In working with his agent, if the Cardinals can offer an attractive amount of guaranteed money over the course of a 3-4 year deal, then there’s a chance that Gardeck would be happy to sign the deal. For example, a 4 year deal that would include $16M in guaranteed money, plus a deal that is chock-full of added incentives could work.

I would certainly make that kind of short and long-term investment in Dennis Gardeck, wouldn’t you? And, again, when teams can spread out the guaranteed money over the course of the contract, they can make this year’s salary more cap friendly.

If the Cardinals and Dennis Gardeck feel it is better to wait on a long-term deal, then the best option the Cardinals have would be to place a 2nd round tender on Gardeck for this season, which is $3.37M. If another team were to sign Gardeck to a contract that the Cardinals would not be able to match, then at least the Cardinals would get a 2nd round pick in return.

Conversely, if the Cardinals put the “right of first refusal” tender ($2.13M) on “The Barbarian” and another team signs him, the Cardinals would get no “original draft round” compensation because Gardeck was undrafted.

Again, it is better to spend the extra money on the player so as to higher the odds for keeping the player —- and if not —-then at least being able to get a valuable asset (or two) back in return.

Ah the thought of being able to see Haason Reddick, Dennis Gardeck and Isaiah Simmons star as 3 of 4 linebackers in the Cardinals’ 34 for the next 3-4 years is extremely exciting. More than exciting enough to protect and invest in.