GLENDALE, Ariz. — A few days after the Arizona Cardinals drafted linebacker Zaven Collins 16th overall on April 29, general manager Steve Keim called Jordan Hicks, one of the team’s starting inside linebackers the past two seasons, and told him he couldn’t compete for a starting job this season, Hicks said Saturday.
Hicks, 29, has played in all 32 games since signing with the Cardinals in 2019 and has the sixth-most tackles and snaps over the past two seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
He said he was “pissed off” but also understood the business behind the team’s decision to name Collins the Day 1 starter at inside linebacker alongside last season’s first-round pick, Isaiah Simmons.
According to Hicks, that discussion with Keim led to Hicks requesting a trade this offseason. A deal has yet to materialize, but he has garnered interest, Hicks said.
“When everything happened, it was tough to handle,” Hicks said.
“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 that, but then there’s a part that just wishes you had had an opportunity to compete, which is all I asked for.”
Hicks, who didn’t participate in the Cardinals’ mandatory minicamp, said there was a point this offseason when he didn’t expect to be a Cardinal in 2021. He said he believes the reduced salary cap in 2021 was partially to blame for him not getting traded. Hicks’ contract was restructured in late March to make his $3 million salary this season fully guaranteed. He also has a roster bonus that’s worth up to $1 million if he’s active for all 16 games. He could earn another $2 million in bonuses, partially from playing time.
Even though Hicks said he’s “excited to be here,” he also said he would welcome an opportunity to start — anywhere.
“I think at this point, I think I’ve proven that I’m a starter in this league by the resume that I have, by the past two years of being here and showing my leadership, showing my play on the field,” Hicks said. “And, so, whether it’s here, whether it’s somewhere else, if given the opportunity to compete, I think I can have a starting job.”
Hicks said he has thus far been impressed with Collins, who’ll be entrusted with calling the Cardinals’ defense. Hicks, who had that role the past two seasons, described the task as “tough.”
“I’m gonna be very honest with you, Zaven has done a great job. He has,” Hicks said. “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 and takes a lot of responsibility, especially when you’ve got guys like Chandler Jones and Budda Baker and J.J. Watt looking back at you to make sure that you’re getting the right call in. So, it’s a lot, but if you can handle it, you can handle it, and that’s part of the game I know, for me, specifically, I love it. That’s one thing I excel at.”
Hicks has been seen at training camp working with both Collins and Simmons on the sideline, showing them different moves or talking through plays. Even though he’s preparing his replacements, Hicks has accepted his role as a mentor. Hicks looked back on how DeMeco Ryans, now the San Francisco 49ers‘ defensive coordinator, answered all of his questions and helped him when he was a rookie in 2015 with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he said he used that as an example of how he wanted to approach this season.
“I don’t try to waver who I am,” Hicks said. “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.”
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph didn’t rule out the possibility of Hicks earning playing time or spelling Collins should Collins struggle. Joseph was among the Cardinals coaches who were in touch with him throughout the offseason.
Joseph said there could be a package that includes Hicks and the two young linebackers. A glimpse of that was on display during Saturday’s practice.
Hicks said the best players should play, plain and simple.
“This year, it’s such a make-or-break year,” Hicks said. “We’ve got to win games, and this division isn’t getting any easier. “And, so, we’ve got to focus on winning. We’ve got to focus on execution.”
After Hicks finished a revealing news conference in which he didn’t shy away from any question, he tried to open the door that connected the media room and the locker room.
It was locked.
The irony wasn’t lost on him.