2016 in review: Calais Campbell

Our '2016 in review' series continues with a look at the defensive side of the ball and one of the Cardinals' most important defensive assets, Calais Campbell.

When the Arizona Cardinals acquired pass-rushing specialist Chandler Jones from the New England Patriots last March, perhaps no Cardinals' player was more excited about the trade than defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

Heading into his ninth NFL season, all with Arizona, Campbell's production had slipped over the past few seasons as the Cardinals struggled to impact opposing quarterbacks.

At 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, Campbell is one of the biggest defensive linemen in the NFL, and without a dominant edge rushing presence to swallow up the attention of opposing offensive lines, Campbell often found himself in challenging situations against double-teams.

What the addition of Jones offered Campbell was the opportunity to line up next to one of the more gifted speed rushers in the NFL, and allow him the opportunity to play one-on-one against guards and tackles on both running and passing downs. 

Though Jones' addition didn't quite signal a new lease on life for Campbell's NFL career, it did provide him with a greater opportunity to shine heading into a contract year, and he made the most of his opportunity.

Campbell in 2016

Regardless of how Campbell performed in 2016, it was practically impossible for a player at his position and his age to live up to the terms of his contract, as he cost the Cardinals over $15 million this season.

Back in 2012, Campbell had signed a five-year contract worth $55 million, and because much of it was back-loaded, the Cardinals were going to be saddled with paying Campbell more than nearly every other defensive lineman in the league even if he wasn't going to come close to providing the value his contract suggested he was worth.

Nevertheless, Campbell did an excellent job bouncing back from one of the least productive seasons in his career in 2015, boosting his sack total and regaining his status as a physical run-stopper. Though Campbell didn't rack up as many tackles as he has in previous seasons, he finished the year with 8.0 sacks, matching the second-highest total of his career.

Additionally, Campbell found other ways to impact the passing game, as he batted down six passes at the line of scrimmage and came up with an important early-season interception on the road in San Francisco that set up a go-ahead touchdown.

Against the run, Campbell was a stout defender, clogging up the B and C-gaps when necessary and forcing running backs to bounce their rushes to outside lanes where Jones and fellow edge-rusher Markus Golden were ready to clean up the mess.

Though Jones didn't put together a Pro Bowl-worthy season, he probably wasn't far off from earning a nod to the NFL's version of the All-Star Game, and that's a testament to his work ethic and desire to be a leader for his teammates.

Campbell in 2017

It's hard to find a Cardinals' star with more of an uncertain future with Campbell, who may have played his last game in an Arizona uniform after spending nine seasons with the franchise.

At the age of 30, it's difficult for Arizona to justify offering Campbell another significant multi-year deal, but if the Cardinals come in lower than Campbell anticipates in contract negotiations, there's bound to be another team eager to add his services to their roster.

The second multi-year contract is always the most dangerous for a franchise and a player, and at the end of the 2016 season, there was a sense that Campbell wouldn't be returning unless the Cardinals miraculously found a way to come up with the money Campbell knows he can command on the open market. 

After drafting Robert Nkemdiche in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Arizona may be ready for a changing of the guard along the defensive line, and if the team believes Nkemdiche is ready to step in, that lessens the likelihood that Campbell will return.

There's still hope for Cardinals fans who would like to see Campbell back next season, but his return would likely preclude the team from paying safeties Tony Jefferson and D.J. Swearinger to come back to the franchise in 2017. 

Arizona clearly has a difficult decision to make regarding a player who's been one of the heralded voices in the locker room over the last decade and an excellent ambassador for the franchise, but in the end, it's probably time to move on. 

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