It was a long, unexpected offseason for Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks. Especially after tying safety Budda Baker for the team lead with 118 tackles. It began with an agreement to accept a salary reduction and then continued when he essentially lost his job after the team selected Zaven Collins with the 16th pick in the first round of the draft. Immediately after the choice was made, head coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim told the media Collins would be the starting MIKE linebacker.
It was cemented, Hicks said, when he received a call from Keim a few days after the draft telling him Collins would not only be the starter but that Hicks couldn’t even compete for the job.
After practice Saturday, Hicks was all class, agreeing to talk to the media, knowing the direction the conversation would go.
He said, “It was tough, right? Obviously. When I heard that, that was the whole reason behind all the drama (having the ability to seek a trade). There's nothing against Zaven; the kid is awesome. He's a great player and he's done nothing but great things out there. He's got a bright future in the NFL. But when everything happened, it was tough to handle. That was kind of the beginning of what the offseason was.
“Every player understands the business side of this game that we play in the NFL. There’s a part of you that is pissed off because all you want to do is have an opportunity to compete. But then at the same time, you understand it. You understand that Steve is doing his job and is doing what he has to do to further the team. I respected the fact that he told me straight up. I respected the fact that he told me he was going to work with me to try to honor a trade, and so there’s a part of you that respects it and there’s a part of you that just wishes you had an opportunity (to compete), which is all I ask for.”
As for any interest from any other teams, Hicks said, “The offseason, especially with the way the cap is right now, is unpredictable. There was interest, but nothing ever made it to the table. This is where we’re sitting right now and all I can do is show up every day with a smile on my face and try to be the best teammate I can be. That’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to play my butt off to be out there, that’s all I can focus on. Worry about what I can control and that’s it. I just want to play man, I want to be out there on the field. That’s why I’m here, I love playing this game.”
He, of course, want to play because, “I think at this point, I’ve proven I’m a starter in this league by the resume’ I have. By the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field. Whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, given the opportunity to compete I think I can have a starting job.”
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said earlier this week that if Collins struggles, he could be replaced by Hicks for a couple series.
Joseph said, “The best players will play, obviously. But right now, (Collins) has been steady, he’s been fine and Hicksy is a savvy veteran. He’s going to play food football and that’s good for us because if Zaven does have some tough downs, we can slide Hicksy for a series or two and rest Zaven, have him watch, and go back out there.
“It’s good to have good players. We’ll see how it falls. It’s our job to put the best players out there and if Hicksy or Zaven are the best players, they’ll play.”
Told what Joseph, Hicks responded, “I don’t make those decisions. I don’t know what’s necessarily best for a guy in terms of bringing him in or bringing him out. I think whoever is playing the best and who they have the most trust in and see us being the best defense in or with, I think those people should be on the field.
“Whether that’s me and Zaven, and Isaiah (Simmons), whether that’s just two of us. I think this game especially this year is such a make-or-break year. We’ve gotta win games. And this division isn’t getting any easier. We’ve gotta focus on winning, we’ve gotta focus on execution. That’s not necessarily a question for me, (we have to) put trust in (head coach) Kliff (Kingsbury) and VJ to put us in the best position for that.”
The MIKE linebacker also calls the defensive signals, so Hicks was asked how difficult that will be for Collins.
“It’s tough, but I’m going to be very honest with you,” he said. “Zaven has done a great job. He’s really impressed me in his ability to pick up the defense and be out there commanding it as well. It’s a tough job. It takes a lot of responsibility, especially when you’ve got guys like Chandler Jones, Budda Baker and J.J. Watt looking back at you to make sure that you’re getting the right call in. It’s a lot, but if you can handle it, you can handle it. I know for me specifically that’s a part of the game I love, that’s something I excel at.”
Now, Hicks just continues to work hard and help his team any way he can.
Asked if it will be hard for him to help his teammates, Hicks traveled back in time to when he was a third-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 and linebacker DeMeco Ryans was in what turned out to be the final season of his playing career.
“I came in as a rookie once trying to play as soon as possible,” Hicks said. “We’ve all been in that position. I was fortunate enough to have a guy like DeMeco Ryans, who’s the DC (defensive coordinator) over in San Fran. He was my 10-year veteran. Every time I asked him a question, he answered it 100% honestly. He brought me under his wing and really showed me the ropes.
“I’ve got faith it will work out the way it’s supposed to. I show up every day to work and to get better and to play hard and to be the person that I am. Whatever the circumstance, I don’t try to waver who I am. Whether I’m out there starting or whether I’m not, I’m going to help whoever needs help because I feel like I’ve got a lot of knowledge to share.”
Hicks admitted there was a time when he didn’t believe he’d be in Arizona this season, but, of course, the reality is that he still might not be given how injuries in training camp can affect teams.
Still, he concluded, “I wasn’t sure, but I have faith in the process, when it got down to it, I know I was coming (reporting for camp). I’m excited to be here.”
Even though, when the interview ended, the door from the press conference room to the locker room had strangely locked. He had to hope that wasn’t an omen. Or, perhaps he hopes it is.