Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick quiets critics with career year

Haason Reddick had 5 sacks against the New York Giants in Week 14. Al Bello/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. -- If Arizona Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick did one of those "How it started ... how it's going" memes to describe his 2020 season, it'd go something like this: Frame 1 -- Reddick sitting on a bench, unsure of how much playing time he'd get with a list of goals in a thought bubble. Frame 2 -- Reddick celebrating around all of his doubters.

It was that kind of year for the former first-round pick.

Reddick's 12.5 sacks were fourth-best in the NFL in 2020, and because of his breakout season, he's put himself in a position to cash in on his productivity -- either with the Cardinals or somewhere else.

"As far as me and what's to come, that type of stuff, it'll take care of itself," Reddick said. "Evidently, I had a good year, a great year."

Five of his 12.5 sacks came against the New York Giants in Week 14 to set a franchise record. But Reddick's fourth NFL season didn't start so hot. The Cardinals declined the fifth-year option on Reddick's contract back in May, setting up the 2020 season to be a prove-it year.

Reddick understood why the Cardinals did what they did. "Based off of what I had done in previous years, it called for them to make a smart business move," Reddick said, "which was to not pick up my fifth-year option."

Through his first three seasons, Reddick had, by most measures, underperformed. The Cardinals took him with the No. 13 overall pick in the 2017 draft, but he had just 7.5 total sacks entering his fourth year and couldn't seem to find a home on the field. He was consistently moved, usually out of position, by whoever was coaching him -- which was three different coaching staffs in his first three years. He was drafted out of Temple as an edge rusher and played inside linebacker, outside linebacker and defensive end during his four seasons, but was never truly comfortable. That changed late in the 2019 season, when defensive coordinator Vance Joseph moved Reddick to outside linebacker. He stayed there in 2020.

For the first time in his young career, Reddick was playing the right position. But Arizona had signed outside linebacker Devon Kennard during the offseason and made him the starter opposite Chandler Jones, leaving Reddick to come off the bench at the start the season.

"As I look back on the year, just started off as a guy trying to find my way and getting back into a groove of rushing the passer, a guy that was just looking to make an impact for the team," Reddick said.

Reddick averaged 33.2 snaps per game for the first five games but against the New York Jets Jones went down with a biceps injury. Reddick had his opening. He became a starting outside linebacker and played no less than 49 snaps in any game the rest of the season, finding a rhythm that evaded him during his first three seasons.

"I feel like a lot of people doubted me," Reddick said. "I knew what I could do and I was able to go out there this year and show that I can rush the passer and I can do it all."

Reddick's sacks came in bunches this season. His first two came in back-to-back games early in the year. He recorded two sacks on Monday Night Football against the Dallas Cowboys, but still had only five total sacks entering December before he blew up against the Giants.

"They have a saying: 'Don't chase sacks, don't chase production,'" Reddick said. "As long as you do things the right way, they'll finally come and sacks comes in bunches, man."

With his season, Reddick shut up his critics who thought the 6-foot-1 pass-rusher was a first-round bust. He heard their words.

"It's funny to me," Reddick said. "People were quick to judge and it's easy to sit at home and watch the game and judge, but if it was easy, everybody would be doing it. You know what I'm saying? So, the simple fact that people think they can sit at home and watch the games and criticize and think they know what's going on, it's funny to me.

"I watched, I listened, I saw what people said and I won't forget. But, as you can see, I came out here this year and did what I had to do. And I bet you they ain't saying it now."

Reddick is scheduled to be a free agent for the first time and, after this past season, a significant deal could be awaiting him. Remaining a Cardinal could be an option, but with Jones coming back there might a log jam at outside linebacker.

"Honestly, I've never been in this position before," Reddick said. "This is my first time, rookie deal about to be up. I don't really know all the ins and outs of what's to happen as far as negotiations and what I'm able to do but hopefully I'll get to stay here.

"I would like to stay here but we'll see what happens when it comes, when the time comes, we'll see what happens."