There were two notable names on the list of nine Cardinals captains that were announced earlier this week: linebackers Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks.
It’s significant how much those players remain respected by their teammates after an offseason that featured both not participating in OTAs and minicamp and each the subjects of trade speculation.
After the selection of linebacker Zaven Collins in the first round of the draft, Hicks was told by general manager Steve Keim he couldn’t even compete for the job that was being handed to Collins.
That came after Hicks previously agreed to a pay cut that reduced his 2021 salary from $5 million to $2 million. Keim told Hicks he would try and find a trade partner, but it never happened.
Jones, meanwhile, following a 2020 campaign that ended in the fifth game when he suffered a torn biceps, is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $15.5 million this season.
He was hoping for a contract extension, mostly to solidify his future beyond 2021, and there were reports he wanted to be traded if the Cardinals failed to comply.
Still, when the situations remained unchanged, both players reported to training camp and are now prepared to contribute to a team that has internally high expectations, but competes in the best division in the NFL.
“Chan’s been all-in guys,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said this week. “I mean, he looked great this week. I think Chan's back to what he was two years ago and he's in great shape. He's rushing the passer, is playing fast and he's ready to go. He's motivated.
“He's been working hard. He's in great shape and he wants to prove he's still one of the best in the game.”
Addressing the contract situation in an interview with the Arizona Republic, Keim said, “Well, he’s coming off the injury and obviously there’s no secret there, but I think that’s one of those things that we’ll continue to have one-on-one talks with him and his agent. I don’t do those things publicly, but Chandler is a guy we love, he has the respect of the guys in the locker room, and he’s a guy I personally would like to see finish as a Cardinal. But you know how this business works. It’s not always that easy.”
As for Hicks, he has been the consummate pro after reporting to camp.
When Joseph was asked if he had any heart-to-heart talks with Hicks, he said, “About 10 heart-to-hearts. It was tough on Jordan. He's been a pro's pro. And he gets it. He was drafted in Philly when DeMeco Ryans was the starter. It's the football business side of things that happens everywhere. But he's going to play. It doesn't mean that Jordan can't play. That's a misconception that Zaven's here and Jordan's out; that's not right. So he's going to be a big part of our defense.”
During the team’s two preseason games, Joseph showed a package that included Collins and inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons on the outside with Hicks inside.
Matched against Tennessee this week, that package could be prevalent as the defense strives to contain Titans running back Derrick Henry.
“He's going to have a huge role for our team,” Joseph said of Hicks.
“Obviously, he's played (over) 2,000 snaps in this defense, and you can't discount that. He's still a good player for us, and every game plan is going to be different. Some game plans, he's going to be on the field with Isaiah and Zaven. And sometimes he won't be, so every week is going to be a different plan to play the best guys for that game. But he's going to be a big part of what we're doing defensively.”
And both Hicks and Jones will do their thing as captains.