EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As Isaiah Simmons worked his way through training camp, he knew his second regular-season game would be the Cardinals hosting the Giants in State Farm Stadium.
But he had no clue he would suit up for the visiting team.
On Aug. 24, Simmons, a third-year linebacker/safety, was with the Cardinals in Minnesota for joint practices with, and the final preseason game against, the Vikings when he received word he had been traded to the Giants for a 2024 seventh-round draft choice.
"I was watching some extra tape with the safeties coach for the Cardinals (Patrick Toney)," Simmons said this week. "It was shocking, it caught me off guard."
Simmons arrived in New Jersey the day following the trade and 24 hours later, after learning a few basics of Wink Martindale's defense, he started the preseason finale against the Jets. Last Sunday, he played 15 snaps on both defense and special teams against Dallas.
"I believe everything happens for a reason and that God never says oops, so fully invested in the plan and what's going on and everything that's happening," Simmons said. "So, really excited for the new opportunity."
And to face the Cardinals and return to the Phoenix area, where the Giants will stay until Wednesday before flying to San Jose for their Thursday night game against the San Francisco 49ers.
"I'm going to finish my packing next week," said Simmons, who returned to Arizona when the Giants were off for three days during Labor Day Weekend. "I got mostly everything done – just got a few things left."
He hopes his work address will be in New Jersey for a long time.
"I love it here," Simmons said. "They all treat me like I've been here for years. Ever since the day I got here, everybody welcomed me in with open arms, from the people who help you move, the G.M. (Joe Schoen), to the owners (John Mara and Steve Tisch), everybody showed me nothing but love and I just could do nothing but appreciate that because it's not like that everywhere."
Simmons was credited with one solo tackle against the Cowboys, but as he becomes more familiar with the defense, he is certain his impact will be greater.
"I got a really good grasp of the playbook, feel like, I learned it all for the most part," he said. "Still got a lot of learning to do. I don't feel like I've mastered it by any means, but as time goes along, I feel like I'll get an even better feel of the small nuances that are within every call. There's the call, there's the game inside the game and that's what I really like to focus on mastering. So, I've learned the game. So now I've been focusing on the game that's inside the game."
The coaches have big plans for Simmons.
"He's fitting in," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "He's just going to keep getting better and better. I think his role is going to expand, because he's that good of a player and he's just learning the package. What is this, the third week he's been here? It's just going to keep expanding. Like I said, he's a positionless player, which is a compliment to him. We can move him around and play him in different spots. Through attrition, there's going to be different spots that are open and each week, you put him in the best spot that you need him in to help us in."
"I think Isaiah has come in and he's done a really good job of picking up the system, picking up the scheme," inside linebackers coach John Egorugwu said. "We'll just kind of look at it like we do with all of our players like, 'Hey, how can we use the guys that we have? How can we put them in the best position to be successful?' I think that's something we'll reevaluate from week-to-week."
It wasn't long ago that the Cardinals had similar strategies for Simmons. They selected him eighth overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, from Clemson, and in three seasons in Arizona he played in 50 games with 37 starts at linebacker and recorded 247 tackles (173 solo), 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.
Simmons has given the Giants tips on the players he lined up with for three years. But he was in Jonathan Gannon's and coordinator Nick Rallis' defense only for the spring and the first three weeks of training camp. And he was never a teammate of quarterback Josh Dobbs, who was traded to the Cards the same day Simmons was dealt to the Giants.
"I got a pretty good feeling about a lot of them just because I played against them in camp," Simmons said. "So, the questions that I've been asked, I just answer to my best ability about guys on the team. People just ask me about mostly individual personnel. I just gave my opinion on what I thought."
Though surprised by his departure, Simmons enjoyed his time in Arizona.
"I feel like it shaped me in a lot of ways, just from the positive things that I've learned," he said. "I was grateful to be around multiple future Hall of Famers, guys like J.J. Watt, Chandler Jones, Deandre Hopkins, A.J. Green, guys that were able to pour into me and give me so much game early on that they've lived. Definitely happy and grateful about that.
"Other than that, I feel like there's things that I could have done better, but what football player doesn't feel that way? I feel like I had success there and learned a lot about myself as well as the NFL. So, I'm grateful for the time there."
Which is a big reason he refuses to make the game a personal vendetta.
"If I go into this game thinking this is a revenge thing, then ultimately, I'm gonna go in there with an underlying factor that could change how I play," he said. "I don't want to go in there like, 'It's revenge, I need to go make a play, I need to show them I can do this, show them I can do that.' Clearly, they already know some things I could do because I was drafted number eight overall there, so I don't feel like I need to go prove myself or go do anything different to show Arizona anything. I just want to go out there and play the best game I've had in my career. Why? Because it's the next game and I just want to improve and help the team in the best way I can.
"So yes, it happens to be Arizona early, but no animosity toward them. They gave me my dream that I've had since I've been a kid. They gave me my first opportunity in the NFL. I'm not mad, not trying to get back at anyone."
View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 2 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals.
*The Giants are 51-42-5 in road openers. Their 51 victories are second to Green Bay's 58 and their .520 winning percentage is third behind Dallas' .609 and the Packers' .563.
MOST WINS IN ROAD OPENERS
- Green Bay Packers: 58
- New York Giants: 51
- Chicago Bears: 47
- Philadelphia Eagles: 43
- Los Angeles Rams: 42
HIGHEST WINNING PERCENTAGE IN ROAD OPENERS (TIE GAMES PRIOR TO 1972 NOT INCLUDED IN WINNING PERCENTAGE)
- Dallas Cowboys: 39-25-0 (.609)
- Green Bay Packers: 58-43-2 (.563)
- New York Giants: 51-42-5 (.520)
- Miami Dolphins: 30-27-1 (.517)
- Los Angeles Rams: 42-43-1 (.494)
*Arizona, which lost its Week 1 game in Washington, is 44-55-3 in home openers, 14-20-1 since moving to Arizona in 1988, and 11-5-1 at State Farm Stadium
*The Cardinals' active four-game winning streak in the series is their longest since they won seven in a row from 1974-77. Three of those triumphs were in MetLife Stadium, most recently a 26-7 triumph on Dec. 13, 2020. The Giants last played in Arizona on Dec. 24, 2017, when they lost, 23-0, under interim coach Steve Spagnuolo. Their most recent victory in the series was by a 31-27 score on Oct. 2, 2011, in State Farm Stadium. The Giants' most significant triumph in that venue (when it was called University of Phoenix Stadium) was their 21-17 victory against New England in Super Bowl XLII.
*The Giants lead the all-time series, 80-46-2.
*Since Week 7 of the 2021 season, Daniel Jones is 7-1-1 in games following a loss, including 4-1-1 last year. The only defeat was in Dallas last Thanksgiving Day.
*Gannon is the only first-year head coach the Giants will face this season.
*Linebacker Azeez Ojulari is listed as doubtful with a hamstring injury. If he plays, this will be the first professional meeting of the Ojulari brothers. BJ Ojulari was the Cardinals' second-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. BJ played 12 defensive snaps and had one assisted tackle last week.
View rare photos from the all-time series between the Giants and Cardinals.