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Williamson: Retaining Calais Campbell might be difficult for Cardinals

11 OCTOBER 2015: Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) fights off a block by Detroit Lions offensive lineman Riley Reiff (71) during game action between the Arizona Cardinals and the Detroit Lions during a regular season game played at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)
(Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

This is a very interesting offseason for Arizona. Several months ago, many of us looked at this team as a legitimate Super Bowl contender after an outstanding 2015 season. Well, 2016 certainly didn’t go as planned and now there are many questions about this roster as we enter free agency and into the draft.

On offense, the Cardinals offensive line was very disjointed and often overmatched. With aged and immobile Carson Palmer behind center in what is designed to be a deep passing game, that is a major problem area that needs to be addressed. And while David Johnson was an extremely bright spot for Arizona’s offense last year and has now established himself as one of the best running backs in the NFL, Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald are clearly reaching the end of their careers. It is safe to ask if this window is closing.

The Cardinals really have little presence at tight end and, ideally, at this stage of Palmer and Fitzgerald’s careers, you would ideally have a youngster waiting in the wings to presumably take over the mantle as Arizona’s starting quarterback and top receiver, but that just isn’t the case here.

You can see Arizona’s offense needs a lot. But how about on defense?

Although the Cardinals used a second-round pick on Brandon Williams, they are still searching for a quality starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. And we know that will be a high-target position. Arizona also has several key members of their defense approaching free agency. It is pretty clear that Chandler Jones will be receiving the franchise tag, but that still leaves Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson in line to get big paydays whether it is in Arizona or outside the organization. Both are coming off excellent seasons and the Cardinals have several other defensive players with value whose contracts are expiring as well.

The Cardinals used their first-round selection last year on Robert Nkemdiche knowing that Campbell’s contract was ending. But Nkemdiche, despite being highly talented, did little in his rookie season to inspire confidence that he could take over the massive role Campbell has occupied on this defense over the past several years.

A healthy Tyrann Mathieu would go a long way to helping what ails the Cardinals secondary, but losing Jefferson, a great run defender and a terror near the line of scrimmage who matches up well against opposing tight ends, would be a big blow nonetheless.

But let’s focus on Campbell. The Cardinals are about middle of the road or slightly worse when it comes to available cap space, but as highlighted above, there is probably more work to be done on this roster than many imagine. How does that affect Campbell?

10 December 2015: Arizona Cardinals Defensive End Calais Campbell (93) [10267] celebrates with Arizona Cardinals Linebacker Kevin Minter (51) [18750] and holds up the football after a fumble recovery for the win against the Minnesota Vikings in action during a Thursday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

10 December 2015: Arizona Cardinals Defensive End Calais Campbell (93) [10267] celebrates with Arizona Cardinals Linebacker Kevin Minter (51) [18750] and holds up the football after a fumble recovery for the win against the Minnesota Vikings in action during a Thursday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium, in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire)

First off, this is a pretty unique player. Coming out of college, some were worried that because of his extreme height Campbell would struggle with the leverage battle at the NFL level. That certainly hasn’t been the case. Also, he was difficult to project as a scheme fit coming out of college, but Campbell has shown that he can play all over the defensive line with great effectiveness and the NFL has become less scheme-concerned now than when Campbell was drafted back in 2008.

This is a player that has been extremely consistent for the Cardinals and is coming off possibly his best season as a pro. His snap count has decreased in each of his last four seasons, but that has worked out very well for him, as he is very productive and effective on a per snap basis. Always a great run defender; Campbell has taken his pass rush up a notch, often from a 3 Technique position. But again, he is a player that can align all over the defensive front inside the tackles.

Campbell uses his extreme height and wingspan very well to not only keep blockers off him but to disrupt passing lanes. He is also a very good powerful tackler and overall, has outstanding strength at the point of attack with huge powerful hands.

By putting the franchise tag on Jones, that cuts Arizona’s spending power in about half. Of course, they can finagle the salary cap as every team does, but retaining Campbell could prove very difficult. Campbell turns 31-years-old on Sept. 1, but that shouldn’t deter many teams from trying to acquire this great player. You would have to think that contending teams would have the most interest as well as the most allure for Campbell. Let’s survey some teams that should be buyers in free agency and how they might fit with Campbell.

Think the Patriots, with all their cap space, might have a use for Campbell? That seems like a match made in heaven and very much a Bill Belichick type of move. And maybe Campbell would take less for a strong shot at a Super Bowl ring in New England.

Cleveland could certainly use him as well, but you wouldn’t think that would be a destination high on Campbell’s list. Tampa Bay would certainly make sense, but they are a pretty strict 4-3 team and Gerald McCoy is entrenched as their 3 Technique. Tennessee and Jacksonville have a lot of money to spend and shouldn’t turn their nose up at a highly productive defensive lineman, but would Campbell be enthralled to go to such a team that could be on the rise, but is still probably a long way away from a championship? 

Washington or Indianapolis would make some sense and both need serious defensive line help, but again, neither looks primed for a Super Bowl run. Other teams surely will have interest, but there are not a plethora of ideal fits for Campbell when considering which teams are buyers and which teams would be presumably attractive to Campbell.

Certainly, Arizona will do its best to keep one of its franchise’s stalwart players in tow. But as stated, that might not be easy and overall, this could end up being a rough offseason for the Cardinals. Maybe Belichick swoops in and takes Campbell off Arizona’s hands.

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