The New York Giants filled a pressing need — and general manager Joe Schoen pulled off a classic low-risk but high-reward trade — when they acquired linebacker Isaiah Simmons from the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Simmons, 25, was chosen by the Cardinals with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 draft, but he never quite lived up to expectations in the desert following an outstanding career at Clemson.
Through the first three seasons of his career, Simmons has logged 258 total tackles, 7.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss, forced seven fumbles, and intercepted four passes and returned one for a touchdown.
Schoen and the Giants are banking on a change of scenery bringing out the best in Simmons, and he just might be an ideal fit for defensive coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale's scheme.
But not everyone is convinced that this move will work out.
"Isaiah's going to have to be much more aggressive and physical for Wink to really like him," a veteran NFL talent evaluator told FanBuzz. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to talk publicly about another team.
Pro Football Focus gave Simmons an 83.5 pass-rush grade but charged him with 12 missed tackles during the 2022 campaign.
Arizona played Simmons at safety during the preseason; but even before he was dealt to the Giants, there were reports that the Cardinals planned to release or trade him prior to the regular season.
Given his versatility to play safety as well as linebacker, it wouldn't be the least bit surprising to see Martindale move Simmons around in a situation-dependent role. However, after losing Jarrad Davis to a season-ending knee injury, Simmons will most likely slide into a starting inside linebacker role alongside Bobby Okereke.
"He has upside, and the athleticism is certainly there," the executive said. "But he's so far been a bust given where he was drafted."
Playing behind a dominant defensive line that includes All-Pro Dexter Lawrence and pass rusher Leonard Williams could create significant opportunities for Simmons from the inside linebacker spot.
For Simmons, playing in Martindale's system potentially gives him the chance to put his best foot forward and revive his career in a scheme that might be a better fit for his best traits. The blitz-happy Martindale also now gets the chance to deploy Simmons as a heat-seeking missile.
However, all of that explosiveness and athleticism hasn't shown itself for Simmons at the NFL level, which is a big reason why the Giants were able to land him so cheaply. Arizona is in full-fledged rebuilding mode, so trading a player of Simmons' caliber for a future asset makes sense given the organization's current trajectory and outlook around first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon and a young roster.
Because the Cardinals declined Simmons' fifth-year option, he is entering the final year of his contract, so the 2023 season could serve as an audition to be part of the Giants' future on defense. Simmons and the Giants travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals in Week 2, giving the former University of Clemson star a chance square off against his former team.
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