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Chargers buy-low trade target: Isaiah Simmons

Tom Telesco still has opportunities to make 2023 an “all-In” season if he’s willing to adapt.

Syndication: Arizona Republic Michael Chow/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Football fans are in the valley of the desert with the conclusion of voluntary OTAs and mini-camps, and a full month before teams start reporting for training camp. In this scheduled drought it’s easy for the mind’s eye to spot a mirage on the horizon, an oasis of refuge and splendor welcoming you with open arms, whispering optimism and promises of success for the upcoming season.

I’ve searched my rations for news to satisfy this thirst: Is there a drop of water in the John Johnston III canteen? Are there any morsels of Kyle Van Noy updates, or a pack of Bryce Callahan retention that I overlooked in my pack?

Finding nothing, my desperation and imagination are swirling an image in my head I’ve longed to see for three years: Isaiah Simmons on the same football field as Derwin James.

In 2020, I had a historically-relevant bad take. Enamored with Anthony Lynn’s 12-4 season, and his glowing reverence for Tyrod Taylor, I was convinced the Chargers should let Lynn roll with “his guy” in his prove-it season and draft Isaiah Simmons to create a truly elite defensive backfield. Visions of the chaos such athleticism and versatility would create inebriated me. Better stars aligned, with a content Tom Telesco dropping back in the pocket, letting the Bengals and Dolphins pick up his top two reads before throwing a dart right at Justin Herbert. At the time I was furious, but within one game I realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Fast-forward to 2023, and I’m visiting SoFi stadium for the first time with fellow BFTB member Alister, donning the jersey of this quarterback I had cursed Telesco for drafting. Even though I’m thrilled to have Herbert as our new franchise centerpiece, this offseason created an interesting little wrinkle that creates opportunity for dreams of 2020 to come true today.

The Cardinals surprised the league by opting to not pick up Isaiah Simmons’ fifth-year option, despite having a healthy financial situation heading into 2024. With a new general manager and head coach hired this offseason, they opted to keep their options beyond 2023 as fluid as possible by not exercising this option despite the improvement and market shift Simmons might experience in Jonathan Gannon’s defense.

The Cardinals haven’t done Simmons any favors since drafting him eighth overall. He’s primarily been deployed as a linebacker, while also seeing significant time on the defensive line. His current career snap splits are as follows, per PFF:

  • Defensive line: 432 snaps
  • Box: 1,077 snaps
  • FS: 63 snaps
  • Slot: 641 snaps

He struggled in his first two seasons when he was primarily used in the box and defensive line, scoring PFF grades of 59.9 and 51.0 respectively. However, in 2022 he took 409 of his career 641 slot snaps, his play responded by jumping to a 67.9 grade. Seeing a top-ten pick suddenly turn a corner would seemingly inspire confidence from a front office, but the Cardinals may not be interested in throwing more money at a safety group that already features two earners in Jalen Thompson and Budda Baker.

If Isaiah Simmons made sense for the Chargers in 2020 (and perhaps he didn’t... as I said, it was a bad take), I’m all-in on Isaiah Simmons in Staley’s scheme. At his absolute worst, he would immediately be the best insurance against a Derwin James injury. At his best, he excels as Staley’s “star” defensive back, where he’s charged with cleaning up a ballcarrier after the defensive line has bounced him off his desired gap. For further reading on why I believe this role is essential to success in Staley’s defense, read this article I wrote last offseason breaking it down.

The biggest question to ask is how much value would the Cardinals attempt to extract from such a trade. To make an educated guess, we can already assume the Cardinals don’t believe Simmons is worth the $12,700,000 the fifth-year option would have paid him in 2023. Given 2023 prices, a departing free agent with that yearly average would earn the former team a fourth round pick in the following year’s compensatory allotment. Since a draft pick’s value generally appreciates by a round per year, it’s reasonable to assume the Cardinals perceive Simmons’ current value to be less than a 2025 fourth-round compensatory pick, or a 2024 fifth round pick.

We see the greatest discounts and value-based trades during a rebuild, and the Cardinals are in the middle of one of the larger rebuilds in the league. Even though the Chargers are pressed against the salary cap next year, how would you feel about Tom pushing his chips in and offering a 2024 fifth round pick for Isaiah Simmons, or perhaps even going as high as a 2024 fourth?

Let me know in the comments below whether you also see some sense in this dream or if I’ve just been wandering in the desert for too long.