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The Kennard Canard

Arizona Cardinals v New York Giants Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Background: EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - DECEMBER 13: Linebacker Devon Kennard #42 of the Arizona Cardinals tackles running back Alfred Morris #41 of the New York Giants in the fourth quarter of the game at MetLife Stadium on December 13, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

  • canard: an unsubstantiated rumor, account, report or story

This off-season, one of the most anticipated moves that Cardinals’ fans and pundits felt certain that the Cardinals would make was to release or trade OLB Devon Kennard in order to save close to $3M on the 2021 salary cap.

Despite the fact that the last few games of the 2019 season, Hassan Reddick showed flashes of promise when he was shifted over the play 34 SAM OLB, including a stellar performance versus Russell Wilson in the 4-9-1 Cardinals’ Week 16 27-13 upset win over the 11-3 Seahawks in Seattle, and having already decided not to pick up Reddick’s fifth year option, the Cardinals signed Devon Kennard (according to sportrac.com) to a 3 year, $20,000,000 contract, including a $5,000,000 signing bonus, $12,250,000 guaranteed, and an average annual salary of $6,666,667. In 2021, Kennard will earn a base salary of $6,250,000 and a roster bonus of $382,343, while carrying a cap hit of $7,882,343 and a dead cap value of $3,750,000.

Having made the mistake in 2019 of moving All Pro Chandler Jones over to SAM OLB in order to accommodate the insertion of Terrell Suggs at BANDIT OLB, when the Cardinals signed Devon Kennard, it was to make him the starter at SAM OLB in order to keep Jones at the BANDIT.

Clearly, the decision to sign Kennard meant that the front office and the coaches had given uo on Haason Reddick and his chances to become the team’s solution at SAM OLB.

The problem was...when Devon Kennard suffered an ankle injury early in the 2020 season, Haason Reddick took over the SAM position and played it better ( keeping contain, rushing the passer, tackling and being an asset in pass coverage) than any 34 SAM OLB in the history of the Arizona Cardinal’ 34 defense.

When Devon Kennard returned from his injury he became the immediate fill-in for Chandler Jones at BANDIT —-and while Kennard was very solid defending the run, the Cardinals got a surprising explosion off the edge on passing downs from Dennis Gardeck. Even with Gardeck’s emergence, Steve Keim made a move to trade for Markus Golden. From the get-go Golden took over at BANDIT thanks to his strong history with the team and due to Devon Kennard’s unfortunate bout with COVID-19.

Therefore, this off-season when the Cardinals decided to stick with Chandler Jones ($15.3M base salary), plus re-sign both Markus Golden (2 year $5M) and Dennis Gardeck (1 year $3.384M on a 2nd round tender), this confirmed in many fans’ minds that the Cardinals would release or trade Devon Kennard.

Of course, seeing as Haason Reddick led the team in sacks with 12.5 and that he displayed the exemplary athleticism to keep contain on the likes of Russell Wilson in ways no Cardinal had demonstrated before, there were reasons to hope that the Cardinals would re-sign their once star-crossed, mismanaged 2017 1st Round pick.

If any Cardinals’ OLB was going to be the odd-man out, it was surely going to be Devon Kennard, right?. Look at the 2020 stats:

Haason Reddick (ranking on team for OLBs)

  • Snaps: 874 (1st - 16 games)
  • PFF Overall Grade:72.8 (1st)
  • PFF Pass Rush Grade:82.6 (2nd)
  • PFF Run Def. Grade: 56.7 (3rd)
  • PFF Tackling Grade:77.6 (1st)
  • PFF Coverage Grade::52.6 (3rd)
  • Tackles: 63 (1st)
  • QB Pressures: 56 (1st)
  • Sacks: 12.5 (1st)
  • Tackles for Losses: 15 (1st)

Devon Kennard:

  • Snaps: 362 (3rd - 13 games)
  • PFF Overall Grade: 63.8 (3rd)
  • PFF Pass Rush Grade:64.0 (4th)
  • PFF Run Def. Grade:69.8 (1st)
  • PFF Tackling Grade: 60.0 (3rd)
  • PFF Coverage Grade::26.5 (5th)
  • Tackles: 19 (3rd)
  • QB Pressures:22 (3rd)
  • Sacks:3 (4th)
  • Tackles for Losses: 5 (3rd)

Chandler Jones:

  • Snaps: 286 (4th — 5 games)
  • PFF Overall Grade: 62.6 (4th)
  • PFF Pass Rush Grade: 63.1 (5th)
  • PFF Run Def. Grade: 56.7 (T-3rd)
  • PFF Tackling Grade: 29.0 (5th)
  • PFF Coverage Grade::76.8 (1st —- gave up 1 catch on 1 target for 3 yards, but aTD)
  • Tackles: 11 (5th)
  • QB Pressures: 10 (5th)
  • Sacks:1 (5th)
  • Tackles for Losses: 1 (5th)

Markus Golden:

  • Snaps: 416 (2nd — 9 games)
  • PFF Overall Grade: 59.5 (5th)
  • PFF Pass Rush Grade: 77.6 (3rd)
  • PFF Run Def. Grade:41.6 (5th)
  • PFF Tackling Grade: 35.8 (4th)
  • PFF Coverage Grade: 30.6 (4th)
  • Tackles: 23 (2nd)
  • QB Pressures: 41 (2nd)
  • Sacks: 4 (3rd)
  • Tackles for Losses: 4 (3rd)

Dennis Gardeck:

  • Snaps: 94 (5th —10 games)
  • PFF Overall Grade: 89.6 (1st)
  • PFF Pass Rush Grade: 84.4 (1st)
  • PFF Run Def. Grade: 61.8 (2nd)
  • PFF Tackling Grade: 63.9 (2nd)
  • PFF Coverage Grade: 65.2 (2nd)
  • Tackles: 16 (4th)
  • QB Pressures: 18 (4th)
  • Sacks: 7 (2nd)
  • Tackles for Losses: 7 (2nd)

With regard to Devon Kennard’s contract the Cardinals had a potential out this year (per sportrac.com):

2021, 1 YR, $6,253,851 base salary, non guaranteed; $3,750,000 DEAD CAP.

The thought was a June 1st release, right?

But wait —- the much anticipated release was but a sleight of hand by Steve Keim and Vance Joseph that we can now refer to as The Kennard Canard!

Per recent reports, not only are the Cardinals keeping Devon Kennard, they are guaranteeing his 2021 $6.253M base salary.

2021 Cap Figures:

  • Chandler Jones: $20.833M
  • Devon Kennard: $7.882M
  • Dennis Gardeck: $3.384M
  • Markus Golden $2.0M
  • Hasson Reddick CAR ($1.990M —- $4.008 dead cap deferred to void years)

What these 2021 cap figures suggest:

  • The Cardinals’ starters at OLB are Chandler Jones (BANDIT) and Devon Kennard (SAM).
  • Dennis Gardeck and Markus Golden are situational pass rushers in the team’s sub packages,
  • Had the Cardinals wanted to keep Haason Reddick, they could have structured a deal like the Panthers made with the reborn OLB and he would have only cost $1.990M on the cap, with a $4M carry-over (signing bonus) that could have been stretched out for 3-4 years —-
  • The $1.990M for Reddick’s 2021 cap figure could have been covered by the cap space added upon Devon Kennard’s release or trade.
  • However, in keeping with the off-season philosophy of becoming more physical up front, keeping Kennard over Reddick has to be because Kennard is stronger defensively versus the run.
  • The question is, however, can Devon Kennard get the job done keeping contain versus speedy QBs, RBs, WRs (end-arounds) and can he provide solid pass coverage? Let alone come close to matching Reddick’s team leading 12.5 sacks and 56 QB pressures?
  • Devon Kennard is a tough, physical player who brings more size (6-3, 256, 4.7, 30” VJ, 7.25 3C) than Reddick (6-1, 235, 4.52, 36.5” VJ, 7.01 3C), while not being as agile or fast (Reddick measures a stellar 9.08 grade on the Realistic Athletic Scale, to Devon Kennard’s 6.78).
  • Because of his ankle injury and of his battle with COVID-19, Cardinals’ fans certainly did not see the best of Kennard in 2020. He should be highly motivated to prove the Cardinals were correct in sticking with him. After all, defending the run in the NFC West has to be one of the team’s top priorities.
  • Coming off Chandler Jones’ injury-marred season and the poorest 5 game stretch of his career, the Cardinals are pushing $15.3M to the middle of the table in the faith that Jones will return to his All Pro form. By all accounts, Chandler is fired up, loves the thought of playing with J.J. Watt and is working out like an Olympian.
  • It appears that the Cardinals were willing to move on from Haason Reddick because they could get stronger run support from Devon Kennard in the base and they believe they could get similar pass rush pressure numbers from Dennis Gardeck and Markus Golden.
  • Plus, the Cardinals have been very likely looking ahead to extending Dennis Gardeck and Chandler Jones. With that in mind, the Cardinals might have felt that it would be impossible for them to sign Reddick long-term as well.

Questions for ROTB members:

  • Do you concur with the Cardinals’ decisions at OLB?
  • If not, what would have been your most favorite plan of action?