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When the Arizona Cardinals welcome the visiting Carolina Panthers inside State Farm Stadium this Sunday, they’ll also be greeting a familiar face they willing let walk out the door last offseason. Haason Reddick, the 13th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, was famously not resigned by Arizona following his breakout season of 2020. The former Temple product led the Cardinals with a career high 12.5 sacks but inevitably ended up in Carolina last spring on a modest one-year deal.
Since then, all Reddick has done is reinforce his status as one of the premier pass rushers in all of football. Entering Sunday’s matchup, Reddick sits sixth in the NFL in sacks with 8.5, just behind current Cardinal Markus Golden (9). Both Reddick and Golden were free agents back in March, with the Cardinals opting to ink the latter to a two-year contract for just under $9 million dollars.
Reaching the open market for the first time in his young career, Reddick chose to sign with a couple familiar faces in Carolina. Former Temple now Panther head coach Matt Rhule along with defensive coordinator Phil Snow oversaw a young Reddick’s development when the former running back turned pass rusher spent time terrorizing opposing quarterbacks in the American Athletic Conference.
But how did the Cardinals even reach this point of allowing their promising young pass rusher to leave?
Looking back at last offseason, with Chandler Jones already in-house and rehabbing a torn bicep, Arizona suddenly lacked the playing time needed to justify Reddick returning. Behind closed doors, there was also serious doubt that the once underwhelming first rounder could duplicate his contract year efforts of 2020. Through his first three years with the team, Reddick managed a modest 7.5 total sacks in 48 games played.
Yet an argument could be made that his lack of production was more on the organization’s mismanagement of his development since he arrival in the desert.
Haason Reddick certainly thinks so.
Last March, when asked by the Carolina media why the sudden burst of production, Reddick stated quote “I was put back into my natural position”.
“That’s where I belong. That’s where my skills and my talent shines the most.”
During the draft process of 2017, Reddick took the NFL scouting community by storm, dominating the Senior Bowl as a standup outside linebacker. During his tenure as a Temple Owl, Reddick had predominantly played defensive end but possessed the necessary attributes to occasionally “standup” at the next level.
Unfortunately for Reddick, Cardinal GM Steve Keim and company ignorantly took his athleticism for granted and inexplicably shoehorned him inside as a three-down linebacker. As a result, the once explosive force off the edge was suddenly relegated to an undersized and mediocre player that was clearly out of position. During his first three years as a Redbird, it was obvious Reddick lacked the skill set and instincts needed to man the inside linebacker role.
It didn’t help that he also endured three different defensive coordinators during his first three years with the Cardinals.
It wasn’t until current DC Vance Joseph wisely shifted Reddick back outside late in 2019 that the tide began to shift in favor of quality production. Suddenly Reddick was everywhere on the field and the once dominant player at the collegiate level was a staple on NFL Sundays. Yet, by all accounts, the move was done too little and too late for all involved to salvage the relationship.
Those early years spent flaying around at inside backer severely affected Reddick’s development while costing him big dollars in the process. Had Reddick been drafted by an organization that would have kept him at his natural position of pass rusher, he undoubtedly would have seen his fifth-year option picked up en route to an eventual extension. Both parties are blame but it’s clear the Arizona Cardinals cost Reddick financially early on.
As a result, both Reddick and the Cardinals opted to go their separate ways and somehow still have prospered. Even without Reddick, the Cardinals boast a pass rush duo in Golden and Chandler Jones that are projected to eclipse well over 20 combined sacks in 2021. While each are significantly older in Reddick (27), Jones has an expiring contract at year’s end while Golden could be the biggest defensive value in all of football given his contract.
Due to his high end play once again, Haason Reddick is likely to see either a lofty contract extension from Carolina or, at worst, a franchise tag that would pay him upwards of $20 million next season. Either way, the former draft bust has solidified himself as a premier player that is currently on pace for an absurd 24 tackles for loss in 2021. He leads a Carolina Panther defense that is one of the biggest surprise units in all of football.
If the Cardinals could do it over again, perhaps they grant Chandler Jones his trade request and opt to pair Reddick with Golden long term. Without the benefit of hindsight, however, it was fair of the Cardinals to be skeptical of Reddick’s ability to duplicate 2021. Living with the consequences of their actions, the team will likely decide on Chandler Jones’s future come January should he finish the year on the upswing. Regardless, with Golden performing the way he is, GM Steve Keim could simply allow Jones to leave and leverage a pass rush rich 2022 draft class.
As for Haason Reddick, his demeanor and grace with the Cardinals was always commendable given the circumstances. Instead of trashing the organization publicly or pounding the table for trade (ala Jones), Reddick quietly went about his business with the intent of one day turning into the player everyone envisioned back in 2017. Unfortunately for both he and the Cardinals, the timing was never right for the two to flourish side-by-side.
The mismanagement of Haason Reddick’s time as a member of the Arizona Cardinals will remain one of the greatest “what ifs” of recent memory.
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