Ironman LB Jordan Hicks Answers Skeptics by Playing Every Snap in 2019

Howard Balzer

Before signing a four-year, $34 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals a year ago, the knock on linebacker Jordan Hicks was that he could not stay on the field. He certainly put those concerns to rest last season by being one of only two players in the NFL to play every of of his team’s defensive snaps.

The Cardinals’ defense was on the field for 1,133 snaps last season, second most in the league behind the Detroit Lions' 1,143 and one more than the Washington Redskins' 1,132. It is no coincidence that those three teams had a combined record of 11-35-2 and the Cardinals (32:36) and Redskins (32:58) were the only teams in the NFL whose defenses were on the field for an average of 32 minutes a game or more. Everyone will be happy if Hicks and the defense can play a lot fewer snaps in 2020 with the offense getting more field time as a result.

Perhaps it is also no coincidence that the other defender to play all his team’s snaps was former Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who was Hicks’ teammate for his four seasons with the Eagles after being selected in the third round of the 2015 draft. Jenkins actually played 119 fewer snaps than Hicks because the Eagles’ defense was on the field for 1,014 snaps, the fourth fewest in the league.

In four seasons, Hicks missed 21 of a possible 64 games while playing and starting all 16 games only once, in 2016. During his final two seasons in Philadelphia, Hicks played and started just 19 of 32 games.

Still, the Cardinals invested $17 million guaranteed at signing including a $12 million signing bonus. Hicks also earned two $500,000 bonuses for being on the 53-man and 46-man game-day roster for all 16 games last season. On the third day of the 2020 league year, $3 million of his $6 million salary became guaranteed.

His numbers reflect what the Cardinals were hoping to get: 150 tackles (third most in the NFL), 1.5 sacks, seven quarterback hits, 11 tackles for loss, three interceptions, six passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

In a Zoom videoconference with reporters on Thursday, his feat along with Jenkins was noted and Hicks was asked if it was a badge of honor to never come off the field.

“Absolutely," he said. "What's funny is, I played with Malcolm for four years, and in those four years, I don't know if he ever came off the field. He might have come off a handful of times. I don't think he missed a game. But (during) the year (2019), I think it might have been around like Week 8, 9 or 10, I was getting questions because I hadn't missed a snap; I hadn't missed a game.

“Obviously, the big knock on me was that I was injury prone. And so I remember referring to Malcolm in an interview saying that was kind of my standard and that was what I was aiming for. Because I'd seen it; I'd seen it been done over and over again by somebody that I really, really respected and somebody that just resembled who I wanted to be in the league at his age.”

Hicks was correct. Jenkins started and played all 16 games in six seasons with the Eagles (2014-2019) and signed as a free agent with the New Orleans Saints this offseason at the age of 32. As for snaps, Jenkins played 100 percent in three of his six seasons and in the other three seasons missed 28 important ones out of 6,409 total snaps. That does not include the 2017 season finale when the Eagles had earned home-field advantage in the playoffs and Jenkins missed 62 of 68 snaps. Numerous other starters hardly played in that game.

Hicks will be 28 in June and going forward he aims to continue emulating what he absorbed from Jenkins.

“His knowledge of the game is preparation, his ability to stay healthy and what he does for his body, so you watch what that's like when you're young and you get to realize what it means to be a pro," Hicks said. "And yeah, you set your goals as to what you see. That's how he was inspirational for me, and obviously, the shows not done. I have to continue. One year doesn't make or break anything. I've got to continue to stay on top of myself and make that a priority.”