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The Devon Kennard Odyssey

Houston Texans v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Background: GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 24: Outside linebacker Devon Kennard #42 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts to a sack on Davis Mills #10 of the Houston Texans during the second half of the NFL game at State Farm Stadium on October 24, 2021 in Glendale, Arizona. The Cardinals defeated the Texans 31-5.

Back in March of 2020, the Detroit Lions, on the verge of reuniting head coach Matt Patricia with former Patriots’ OLB Jamie Collins, made what was considered a surprise move by releasing one of their defensive captains, OLB Devon Kennard. Kennard was also serving as the Lions’ NFLPA player representative. And in 2019 he was nominated for the Walter Payton Award by virtue of his philanthropic endeavors for the city of Detroit.

The Lions’ statement at the time was; “From the day he joined our organization in 2018, Devon exhibited an outstanding level of professionalism on and off the field. We would like to thank Devon for his contributions to the Lions organization over the last two years and wish him and his family the very best in the future.”

To which DK tweeted:

Steve Keim and the Arizona Cardinals wasted no time signing Devon Kennard, the son of former Cardinals offensive lineman Derek Kennard, to a 3 year $21M contract. It was a much welcomed landing spot and homecoming for the young man who played his high school ball at Desert Vista in Phoenix before taking his talents to USC.

For Devon Kennard, playing for the Arizona Cardinals was a football odyssey.

When the Cardinals signed Kennard, they believed that he would be a nifty fit at SAM OLB opposite the BANDIT OLB Chandler Jones.

The timing of the signing was curious in that after moving Haason Reddick to SAM OLB, after an initially slow transition to OLB from WILB, Reddick started taking a shining to the role, so much so that, he played a near perfect edge versus Russell Wilson during the Cardinals stunning 27-13 upset of the Seahawks at Lumen Field. Going into that Week 16 game, the 11-3 Seahawks were in contention for earning the NFC’s #1 or #2 seed in the playoffs and had already clinched the NFC West title.

Reddick did a masterful job of keeping contain on Russell Wilson and taking fundamentally perfect outside-in edge rushing angles on the MVP candidate QB, to hem him into the pocket where the Cardinals were able to sack him 5 times.

Therefore, when the Cardinals signed Devon Kennard to be the starter at SAM OLB, having declined to pick up Haason Reddick’s 5th year option, this appeared to be the beginning of the end for Reddick in Arizona.

Come Week 1 of the 2020 season, Devon Kennard was the starter at SAM OLB, but a pulled hamstring relegated him to the sidelines —- and from there Haason Reddick seized the opportunity and turned it into a breakout 12.5 sack season.

Despite losing Chandler Jones for the season in Week 5, the Cardinals were able to finish 4th in the NFL in sacks with 48, thanks in large measure to Reddick, a trade for Markus Golden and the emergence of speed rusher Dennis Gardeck.

During the off-season, it was reasonable to expect that the Cardinals would try to re-sign Haason Reddick to a long-term deal. Instead, the Cardinals decided to remain invested in Chandler Jones (for the final year of his contract), Devon Kennard (for the 2nd year of his 3 year contract) and in Markus Golden whom the team signed to a new team-friendly 2 year deal.

While Devon Kennard was very effective in setting the edge, in 219 pass rushes he only generated 22 QB pressures and 3 sacks. Conversely, Haason Reddick in 412 pass rushes, generated 56 QB pressures and 12.5 sacks. Furthermore, Dennis Gardeck in a mere 79 pass rushes generated 18 QB pressures and 7 sacks.

The tough news for Dennis Gardeck and the Cardinals was that he tore an ACL late in the 2020 season. But the hope was that he could start to regain his pass rushing skills once the knee was fully rehabbed. But, Gardeck’s rehab was going to take many, many months.

The question has always been —- why did the Cardinals let Haason Reddick go as a 2021 UFA?

I have a theory as to why.

I believe that the Cardinals became so enamored with Dennis Gardeck’s skills as a pass rusher that they decided that if they were going to invest heavily in a young pass rusher, they would do so with Gardeck and not Reddick. The problem was, heading into the 2021 season, the Cardinals would have to be super patient with Gardeck. But, they felt they could rely heavily on Chandler Jones, Markus Golden and Devon Kennard while Dennis was trying to get back to playing at full strength.

In the short term, it may look like the Cardinals made the wrong choice of prioritizing Gardeck over Reddick. I mean, look at Reddick now —- starting the first year of his brand new 3 year $45M contract with the Eagles which included $30M fully guaranteed.

Now, signing with the Eagles is Haason Reddick’s football odyssey.

However, if you have heard Dennis Gardeck talking about his goal heading into this 2022 season, you know he is a man on a mission. The added bonus for the Cardinals is that Gardeck agreed to a 3 year $10M contract with $3.25M guaranteed that could potentially rival Markus Golden’s as the most team friendly deal on the roster.

The Cardinals are hoping that for the next three years Dennis Gardeck will have the kind oof impact that Haason Reddick had for the Cardinals in 2020. By the numbers, Reddick and Gardeck are very similar athletes.

  • Dennis Gardeck: 6-0, 232, 4.57, 36.5” vertical, 2.63 20 yard-split, 10’6” broad, 31 reps
  • Haason Reddick: 6-1, 235, 4.52, 36.5” vertical, 2.62 20 yard split, 11’1” broad, 24 reps

The difficult truth about Devon Kennard is that Vance Joseph has played him sparingly as an edge rusher. However, Kennard’s forte for the team was setting the edge in short yardage and goal line situations, where he was key contributor in the impressive goal line stands the defense made last season.

But, because of the emergence of 2021 draft pick OLB Victor Dimukeje and 2022 draft picks Cameron Thomas, Myjai Sanders and Jesse Luketa, if the Cardinals were going to keep all of them on the roster, then, as projected after the 1st pre-season game, it could make sense for the Cardinals to move on from Kennard.

In this August 16th 53 man roster projection, here was the rationale:

“Dennis Gardeck (79.8) showed a strong burst off the edge early. And while Markus Golden was being rested, his protege, “Junk Junior”, Victor Dimukeje (91.0) was relentlessly dominant while posting 6 QB pressures, 2 sacks and a forced fumble. Clearly, Dimukeje has taken full advantage of the Cardinals’ off-season training regimen, because he has become noticeably stronger and quicker. Cam Thomas (51.8) did a good job of setting the edge, but he was only able to generate 1 QB pressure. Myjai Sanders (78.1), on the other hand, was a disruptive force off the edge, earning an 83.3 pass rushing grade, which was 3rd on the team behind Jesse Lemonier (94.1) and Victor Dimukeje (92.3). What Sanders wasn’t able to do was finish off his tackles.

Jesse Luketa (60.5) made his physical presence felt from the get-go, not only in blowing up blockers, but in chasing down plays with ferocity, the same he did in kick coverage when he put a thunder tackle on the returner. His 65.8 special teams’ grade was 3rd best on the team for those who played in 10 or more snaps. Luketa has the look of a special teams’ dynamo in the mode of Dennis Gardeck and Zeke Turner. This is why he appears to be a lock to make the roster.

The Cardinals’ infusion of young talent on the edge has likely created a scenario where they will have to try to trade Devon Kennard. In restructuring his contract, Kennard would only count $1.25M in base salary for any team that trades for him. A trade or a release will leave the Cardinals with $3.6M in dead cap space. Kennard’s niche on the Cardinals is in setting the edge on the goal-line defense. That’s the kind of niche that could draw the interest of a team like the Patriots. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have three solid candidates to fill that role in Victor Dimukeje, Cam Thomas and Jesse Luketa.”

The gist is, the coaches are investing in the young talent they have assembled on the edge.

Thus, with his release yesterday, Devon Kennard’s odyssey in Arizona has concluded after 2 seasons. During that time he has pocketed the vast majority of his $21M contract and he has graded very well in performing the part-time edge assignments he was given:

  • 2020: 63.8 in 362 snaps
  • 2021: 77.4 in 265 snaps

Based on his edge setting prowess and how strong he looked in the few snaps he played in pre-season game two, Devon Kennard may be able to find a comfortable niche on a new team. He’s a quality player and a man of high character.

The toughest part for Devon Kennard was that he was being paid as a starter, yet he was unable to lock down his position. Maybe he deserved a better shake from the coaches. Yet, it’s hard to make a case that Kennard was a better pass rusher than Haason Reddick, Markus Golden and Dennis Gardeck.

But when the Cardinals kept Jones last year after trading for Golden and then when they re-signed Dennis Gardeck this year to a 3 year deal at half of Kennard’s salary while adding 4 OLBs in the past two drafts, Devon Kennard’s chances of sticking in Arizona were tenuous.

In two seasons, Devon Kennard started 7 games and combined for 43 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 11 QB hits and 3 sacks.

One can feel for the man. DK is a baller. Hopefully, his tenure on his third team will be the charm.