Sunday, January 16, 2022

Packers Turn One-Year Small Change Businesses Into All-Pro Players

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When the Green Bay Packers signed De’Vondre Campbell in June, they knew they were getting the linebacker at a bargain price, but it’s hard to imagine anyone could have predicted what was coming next.

On a career year basis, Campbell was named a first-team all-pro on Friday for the first time in his six NFL seasons. He earned the honor after signing a one-year, $2 million contract with the Packers during the offseason.

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It’s hard to imagine money being better spent anywhere in the league in 2021. For this reason, ESPN NFL insiders Field Yates thinks it’s not just Campbell that should do a lap of honor after his monster season, but Packer’s General Manager Brian Gutekunst too.

“The Packers signed LB De’Vondre Campbell to a one-year, $2 million contract on June 9. It has been on the open market for almost 3 months.” Yates wrote on Twitter. “Today he was named First-Team All Pro. GM Brian Gutekunst is once again doing a great job.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Campbell has actually played on one-year contracts for the past two seasons.

The linebacker spent his first four years at Atlanta after being selected by the University of Minnesota with the 115th pick in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He’s put together solid to above-average campaigns during his time with the Falcons and has proven extremely reliable in terms of his ability to stay on the field.

Atlanta elected not to keep Campbell even though the linebacker was enjoying the best season of his career to that point: 129 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 5 passes defended, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1 recovered fumble, per Pro Football cover.

The Arizona Cardinals signed Campbell to a one-year, $6 million contract in 2020 that netted him just under $6.2 million with per Spotrac incentives. He had another good season in the desert, making 99 tackles, sacking opposing quarterbacks twice and forcing another fumble.

Whether it was the time Campbell spent in the free-agent market or the general disinterest that allowed him to remain unemployed there for months, Campbell chose to only accept a third of the money the Cardinals paid him was to join a victor in Green Bay.

The Packers finished the 2021 season with a 13-4 record and the No. 1 pick in the NFC Playoffs. Campbell had his best season yet, which was similar to, but ultimately better than, his senior year in Atlanta. He registered 146 tackles, which ranked 6th in the NFL, and made 5 passes defense while intercepting 2 more. He also registered 2 sacks and 6 quarterback hits, forced 2 fumbles and recovered another.

After a season like the one Campbell just had, one thing is certain — those one-year deals are a thing of the past.

Exactly which contract Campbell will take on is hard to say, but it will be significant. He is only 28 years old and has a track record of durability. Seattle Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner is playing on a 3-year, $54 million contract for a salary of $18 million with a $40 million guarantee.

Indianapolis Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard just signed the richest linebacker deal in history, guaranteeing him $98 million over five seasons, or $19.7 million annually with $52.5 million and one built-in off for the Colts after three seasons.

Wagner is a surefire Hall of Famer with a long track record in the NFL, while Leonard is now considered one of the top two or three linebackers in the game, depending on who you ask. As such, Campbell likely won’t receive the kind of high-end cash his two 2021 All-Pro contemporaries negotiated. Still, he’s secured a multi-year contract that pays him an eight-figure annual salary and comes with a sizable amount of guaranteed cash.

Whether the Packers can afford Campbell remains to be seen. Green Bay has yet to work out the situation with quarterback Aaron Rodgers not committing to returning next season. He’s under contract, but the cap hit is so high that Rodgers can force the Packers to trade him should he decide not to play in a contract reshuffle.

Such a move would likely only happen if Rodgers accepted a long-term renewal for the team, which would likely be in the range of the richest annual quarterback deal in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs currently holds that honor with an annual salary of $45 million.

Green Bay will also likely have to pay fellow All-Pro Davante Adams the richest wide receiver deal in the NFL to keep him happy. Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins is making $27.25 million annually but only on a two-year contract, while Dallas Cowboys pass catcher Amari Cooper is playing on a five-year, $100 million contract but with only $40 million fully guaranteed .

Several teams will be interested in Campbell in the offseason, with the Los Angeles Rams being one of the obvious and usual suspects after building an all-star defense with cornerback Jalen Ramsey (All-Pro) and defenseman Aaron Donald (All- Pro) and Edge Rusher Von Miller to name a few.

If the Packers want to keep Campbell, which they certainly should, they need to ramp up financially. Whether they can will be one of the biggest questions in Green Bay this offseason.

Indianapolis Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard just signed the richest linebacker deal in history, guaranteeing him $98 million over five seasons, or $19.7 million annually with $52.5 million and one built-in off for the Colts after three seasons.

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