When the Green Bay Packers signed De’Vondre Campbell back in June they knew they were getting the linebacker at a bargain, but it’s hard to imagine that anyone could have predicted what was coming next.
On the strength of a career year, Campbell on Friday was named a First-Team All-Pro for the first time in his six NFL seasons. He earned the honors after inking a one-year, $2 million deal with the Packers during the offseason.
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It’s hard to figure there was money better spent anywhere in the league in 2021. Because of that, ESPN NFL insider Field Yates thinks that it isn’t just Campbell who should be taking a victory lap after his monster season, but also Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst.
“The Packers signed LB De’Vondre Campbell to a one-year, $2M deal on June 9th. He had been on the open market for almost 3 months,” Yates wrote on Twitter. “Today he was named a First-Team All Pro. GM Brian Gutekunst doing work yet again.”
Campbell’s Big Year Unexpected, But Didn’t Come Out Of Nowhere
Somewhat surprisingly, Campbell has actually played the last two seasons on one-year contracts.
The linebacker spent his first four years in Atlanta after the team selected him with the 115th pick in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of the University of Minnesota. He put together solid to above-average campaigns during his time with the Falcons, proving highly reliable in terms of his ability to stay on the field.
Atlanta chose not to retain Campbell, despite the linebacker coming off the best season of his career to that point: 129 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 quarterback hits, 5 passes defensed, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles and 1 recovered fumble, per Pro Football Reference.
The Arizona Cardinals signed Campbell to a one-year, $6 million deal in 2020 that paid him just under $6.2 million with incentives, per Spotrac. He had another good season in the desert, making 99 tackles, sacking opposing quarterbacks twice and forcing another fumble.
Whether it was the amount of time Campbell spent on the free agent market or the general lack of interest that allowed him to remain there unemployed for months, Campbell decided to accept only one-third of the money he was paid by the Cardinals to join a winner in Green Bay.
The Packers finished the 2021 season with a 13-4 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs. Campbell had his best season yet, which was similar to that of his final year in Atlanta, though ultimately better. He registered 146 tackles, which ranked 6th in the NFL, and defensed 5 passes while intercepting 2 more. He also registered 2 sacks and 6 quarterback hits, forced 2 fumbles and recovered another.
Packers May Say Goodbye To Campbell After Just One Season
After a season like the one Campbell just had, one thing is for certain — those one-year deals are a thing of the past.
What contract precisely Campbell will command 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 deal, which equates to an $18 million salary with $40 million guaranteed.
Darius Leonard, All-Pro linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts, just signed the richest linebacker deal in history, which will pay him $98 million over five seasons, or $19.7 million annually with $52.5 million guaranteed and a built-in out for the Colts after three seasons.
Wagner is a sure-fire Hall of Fame player with a long record of NFL success, while Leonard is considered one of the best two or three linebackers in the game today, depending on who you ask. Thus, Campbell probably won’t get the kind of high-end cash his two 2021 All-Pro contemporaries negotiated. Still, he is sure to get a multi-year deal that pays him an eight-digit annual salary and comes with a significant amount of guaranteed money.
Whether the Packers will be able to afford Campbell remains to be seen. Green Bay still needs to sort out the situation with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has not committed to returning next season. He is under contract, but the cap hit is so high that Rodgers can force the Packers into trading him should he decide not to play ball on a contract restructure.
Such a move would likely only happen were Rodgers to accept a long-term extension from the team, which would probably end up in the ballpark of the richest annual quarterback deal in the NFL. Patrick Mahomes, of the Kansas City Chiefs, currently holds that distinction with a salary valued at $45 million annually.
Green Bay is also likely going to have to pay fellow All-Pro Davante Adams the richest wide receiver deal in the NFL to keep him happy. Cardinals wideout DeAndre Hopkins makes $27.25 million annually but on just a two-year deal, while Dallas Cowboys pass catcher Amari Cooper is playing on a five-year, $100 million contract but with only $40 million fully guaranteed.
There will be several teams interested in Campbell in the offseason, with the Los Angeles Rams being one of the obvious and usual suspects after having built an All-Star caliber defense with the likes of cornerback Jalen Ramsey (All-Pro), defensive lineman Aaron Donald (All-Pro) and edge rusher Von Miller, just to name a few.
If the Packers want to keep Campbell, which they most certainly should, they will have to step up financially. Whether they can will be one of the biggest questions in Green Bay this offseason.