TEMPE — It’s been a weird offseason to say the least for Arizona Cardinals linebacker Jordan Hicks.
Days after the 2021 NFL Draft, the veteran linebacker was told he would not be given a chance to compete for the starting MIKE linebacker position he’s played since his arrival in 2019. That job now belongs to rookie Zaven Collins.
It led to a tough stretch for Hicks. But instead of sinking into the abyss on the depth chart, he has stayed locked in for whatever role he’s put in this season. He’s even taken it upon himself to lend a helping hand in the development of both his replacement and second-year pro Isaiah Simmons.
And from the sounds of it, Hicks has and will be an integral part of the defense moving forward — no matter his status as a starter. Having played 2,000 snaps in the defense and made at least 118 tackles the past two years, the experience isn’t being overlooked by defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
“He’s been a pro’s pro and he gets it. … It’s the football side of things that happens everywhere,” Joseph said Thursday. “This kid (Collins) was a top 20 pick and he’s gonna play. That doesn’t mean Jordan can’t play. That’s a misconception that Zaven’s here and Jordan’s out. That’s not right. … He’s gonna be a big part of our defense.
“Every game plan is gonna be different,” Joseph added. “Some game plans he’s gonna be on the field with Isaiah and Zaven and sometimes he won’t be.”
‘Life’s more important than football’
Malcolm Butler’s sudden retirement coming on the last day of August threw the Cardinals a curveball most outside the organization didn’t realize.
The reason behind the decision is still not clear, but Joseph provided a little more clarity Thursday.
“No, he was playing fine, he was improving every day and he was gonna be a big part of what we did this year,” Joseph said when asked if performance had anything to do with Butler’ retirement.
“Last week we talked a little bit, he’s taking care of some personal stuff and that’s important,” Joseph added. “Obviously, football is a big part of his life but his life’s more important than football.”
Butler was signed this offseason to lead a new-look cornerback room alongside Byron Murphy and Robert Alford.
Organized sports betting a sign of the times for Vance Joseph, J.J. Watt
Even for those who don’t like to press their luck, you likely know Thursday is the first day for legal sports betting in the state of Arizona.
It’s a true sign of the times for the sports world.
“I don’t have [a reaction] really,” Joseph said. “Years ago in this league, it was a no-no for coaches, anybody to be involved in any kind of gambling or casinos. Now, it’s the times we’re living in. I’m not opposed to it. … It doesn’t effect us at all, we play the games.
“I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t want to bet on these games because I have no idea who’s gonna win these games. I work six days a week to try to figure out who’s gonna win and I get there and I’m like, ‘Boy, that just happen?’ Every game I think we’re gonna win by 30 points and we don’t. I don’t know that betting stuff — I guess it’s fun for people to do, but I wouldn’t bet my money on it.”
Defensive lineman J.J. Watt stayed along the same lines as Joseph, adding that if it keeps fans that much more engaged and interested in games, he’s all for it.
“Before I feel like I’m gonna have a sack, I’ll run up there and throw some cash on the line,” Watt said jokingly. “I don’t have any thoughts on it.
“I think that obviously it’s very clear that sports gambling is being integrated into the leagues and they’re embracing it now where they were once pushing against it in a big way so I think there’s clearly a push that way and it’s only gonna continue to move that way.”