On Thursday, the Arizona Cardinals made a minor yet interesting move when they decided to ship off linebacker/safety Isaiah Simmons to the New York Giants. The return was a mere seventh-round selection, and in the wake of looming roster cuts, many such deals are going to be made in the next week around the National Football League.
What makes this trade so intriguing, however, especially for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, is that this felt like the sort of deal that general manager Brett Veach would have made in previous seasons. The fact that the Chiefs were not interested at this price—or at all—makes sense on multiple levels, yet taking a risk on a once acclaimed prospect like Simmons sure feels like a Veach-like maneuver.
It wasn't that long ago that the Chiefs were taking regular shots at rebounding players. Wide receivers like Kelvin Benjamin or Josh Gordon or Corey Coleman were signed on no-risk deals. Linebackers like Reggie Ragland or Darron Lee were given another shot to make good on their draft pedigree. Defensive backs like Lonnie Johnson or DeAndre Baker or Mike Hughes were given a change of scenery. Even Damon Arnette was on the roster for just over a week before getting arrested (again).
The KC Chiefs decided against making a deal for Isaiah Simmons, but it felt like a classic Brett Veach buy in some ways.
For a franchise always looking for a low-risk, high-reward opportunity (Justyn Ross, anyone?), Isaiah Simmons represented a very high ceiling as a defensive tweener prospect only a few years ago. The Cards drafted him at No. 8 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft after he starred at Clemson as both a starting safety and linebacker (where he won the Butkus Award his final year as the nation's best LB).
Unfortunately for both Arizona and Simmons, nothing has worked out as planned. The Cards bypassed tackle prospects like Tristan Wirfs or Jedrick Wills to land Simmons only to have him fail to succeed as such a tweener at the next level—at least at the expected levels. As it turns out, NFL teams pursue specialized builds and talents for good reasons and even elite athleticism can fail to overcome a lack of a physical trait or mental difficulties. Simmons has been productive at times, but he's definitely not the defensive dynamo he was drafted to be.
Enter Thursday's trade. The Cardinals had already turned down his fifth-year contract option coming into this season, and Steve Keim, the GM who drafted him, had already lost his job. The Cardinals new general manager, Monti Ossenfort, decided the team would move on without worrying about where to put something that wasn't working as envisioned and dealt him away.
Back to the Chiefs. What could have made Simmons even more interesting to a team like the Chiefs is the fact that Simmons attended Olathe North before heading off to Clemson. That sort of homecoming would have made any redemptive arc personal as well as professional, sweetening the potential story of it all.
However, the Chiefs are at a different point this year than they were before. First, the team had just played the Cardinals and saw how poorly he played against them. Second, the lack of a move from Veach to "beat" the seventh-round offer from the Giants shows just how far Simmons' stock has dropped from his draft day. The Giants made the deal they did to at least get a guaranteed look at him instead of hoping he'd slip through waivers, but it's eye-opening to see that was all it required when Simmons was such a hot prospect only three seasons ago.
Finally, the Chiefs were likely out on this deal because if there are any spaces on the roster at which they feel the best (and at which there's little room to maneuver), it's at linebacker and safety. The Chiefs already have Drue Tranquill, Nick Bolton, Leo Chenal, and Willie Gay Jr. at linebacker (not to mention Jack Cochrane). At safety, Justin Reid and Bryan Cook and Chamarri Conner and Mike Edwards and Deon Bush are all deserving of a spot on the active roster.
So now Simmons is going to New York and the Giants can only hope they've struck gold. But as the Chiefs have learned over the years, there's a reason why such once-heralded players were set free in the first place. It's a nice story when someone can turn it around, but expecting a guy like Cameron Erving to become a high-end lineman after struggling at the NFL level already is usually a fool's errand. This time, the Chiefs apparently weren't interested in such a ride.