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In prioritizing Watt, cap restrictions force Cards to pivot off Reddick

The former 13th overall pick finally realized his potential this past season.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After three long years of waiting, Haason Reddick finally realized his potential this past season.

Following the season ending injury to star pass rusher Chandler Jones, Reddick was thrust into the starting lineup where he promptly responded with a career high 12.5 sacks. In addition to his QB take-downs, Reddick also netted 15 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hits and six forced fumbles.

He was undoubtedly the Arizona Cardinals best front seven player in 2020.

And now he’s (likely) gone.

Well, not technically gone as the Cardinals could still convince Reddick to stay as a free agent. But outside of Kurt Warner back in 2009, when is the last time a prominent Arizona Cardinal was allowed to “test the market” yet opted to return to the team?

Below are some recent examples of the opposite result:

  • Calais Campbell
  • Calvin Pace
  • Tyrann Mathieu
  • Karlos Dansby
  • Antrel Rolle
  • Bobby Massie
  • Tony Jefferson

At this point, the team is more likely to focus their attention on other positions of need come next week’s start to free agency. This situation became evident shortly after the arrival of a certain Hall of Fame bound defensive linemen only a week ago.

The addition of J.J. Watt all but cemented Reddick’s status with the team. He likely has a been offered a “take it of leave it” deal from GM Steve Keim but will absolutely find a market once free agency begins next week.

While Watt’s cap hit for 2021 is a modest $4.9 million dollars, the $31+ million committed over the next 2-3 years is the figure to remember. Also, with big money already tied to that of Chandler Jones (nearly $21 million dollars), a Reddick franchise tag likely would have pushed commitments to the position well over $40 million for 2021.

For comparison sake, the Cardinals had no defensive linemen of note prior to the signing of Watt. Jordan Phillips was underwhelming at best during his first year with the team, while young players like Zach Allen, Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence remain largely unproven.

The defensive line needed a proven star and the Cardinals found that in Watt. The former Houston Texan will be their most impactful 5-technique since Calais Campbell.

A Reddick addition, even if only for the 2021 season, would have felt like more of a luxury compared to anything else. Especially when you consider the remaining, glaring holes on the roster that include WR, iOL, TE, RB and CB.

The Cardinals are likely to make several roster moves in the coming week to ensure Keim and company have plenty of free agent dollars to work with.

There’s also the theory that DC Vance Joseph, while flawed, does have a keen ability to produce quality pass rushers. Even without Chandler Jones for the majority of last season, Joseph’s unit was still able to net enough sacks to qualify for fourth in the entire league.

Joseph’s core group of edge rushers (Reddick, Gardeck, Golden) managed to combine for 22.5 sacks as a unit.

As it stands today, Devon Kennard is slated to start opposite Chandler Jones to begin the 2021 season. I remain skeptial that the Valley native has enough bend to consistently win on the edge but the former Detroit Lion does have his supporters in the building. He also battled a spout with COVID-19 during the 2020 season that limited his availability.

According to OverTheCap, designating Kennard as a post June 1 cut would save the Cardinals roughly $6.6 million against the cap.

Those funds, among others, could be reallocated toward a suddenly robust free agent pass rusher market that includes notables such as Bud Dupree, Leonard Floyd and former Cardinal Markus Golden.

Golden was famously drafted in the second round by the Cardinals in 2016, only to be brought back in a midseason trade last October.

While he finished with only three sacks in nine games with the redbirds, Golden’s presence on the field was evident. Additionally, he is incredibly well liked within the Cardinal organization. and has forged close relationships with that of Chandler Jones, D.J. Humphries and Budda Baker.

A platoon of Golden and perhaps a rookie OLB should not be discounted.

The assumed departure of Reddick has to be somewhat disappointing for Keim. The infamous GM has a well documented, uninspiring track record of first round picks in Arizona. Yet here was Reddick potentially turning the corner in a contract year.

The Cardinals will never be able to rewrite history with the former Temple product, having foolishly shoehorned him in as an ILB from day one. That decision alone likely cost them years of quality production at OLB, which inadvertently led to the team opting to decline his fifth year option a year ago.

Now Reddick sits to make some well deserved free agent dollars while the Cardinals hope their two year investment in the 31 year old J.J. Watt pays dividends.

Could Reddick’s next team regret a potential multiyear deal with the former first round pick? Is this another Calvin Pace/Jerry Hughes situation?

Only time will tell.