Kampman priority No. 1 for Packers

With the Packers' new coaching staff set, it is time to focus on free agency. The one unrestricted free agent the Packers cannot afford to lose is defensive end Aaron Kampman.

Near the end of the regular season Kampman's agent, Neil Cornrich, and Packers' general manager Ted Thompson were reportedly in negotiations to get a long-term contract done, but nothing came about. The clock is ticking until the free agency period begins March 3, so the Packers have less than a month to decide if they want to give a substantial contract to Kampman or risk losing him in the open market.

Several factors could come into play in deciding whether to retain Kampman. Because a deal has not been completed, it is safe to assume the two sides have vastly different opinions of what the four-year defensive lineman is worth. That is the most likely holdup. Then there is the Packers' situation at defensive end, which is thin on experience and consistency, but long on potential. Finally, the Packers may look at the option of placing the franchise or transition tag on Kampman, a designation they can decide on as early as today and as late as Feb. 23.

Thompson has much to think about, but with the Packers' salary cap room and Kampman's performance, a long-term deal with a significant signing bonus comparable to the top 10 defensive ends in the league should be forthcoming.

Kampman may not be known around the league as one of the top 10 defensive lineman because he does not boast at a position where players become known for doing such. In Green Bay, though, Packers fans, teammates, and staff know that Kampman can play. He has been the Packers' best all-around defensive lineman for the past three years and gone from being a dependable player to borderline dominant one. He also stays healthy enough to suit up for every game and rarely makes mistakes.

In 2005, with a new defensive system that the Packers will presumably employ this year under new defensive coordinator Bob Sanders, Kampman found a zone. He recorded 105 tackles, the most by a Packers' defensive lineman since 1983. He continued to play the run well and exhibited excellent technique, giving him a decided advantage over opposing tackles. Most importantly, he improved in the one area he may have been criticized the most in – rushing the passer. He recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks and consistently put the heat on opposing quarterbacks. Of his three forced fumbles, two came on quarterback pressures.

Kenny Peterson and Mike Montgomery are two young defensive ends who would be in line to replace Kampman, but neither possesses the all-around ability of the Iowa native. The difference if Kampman were gone would be noticeable.

The Packers also have the option of selecting an impact defensive end in the draft this year with the No. 5 overall pick, but with Thompson having a history of taking the best player available regardless of position, a defensive end at that spot is unlikely.

To franchise or transition tag Kampman could be possible to delay the negotiations for a long-term deal. Should he be "franchised," the Packers would owe him a one-year deal of the average salary of the top five players at his position. If any other team wanted to sign him to a deal they would have to give the Packers two first-round picks in return as compensation. Should he be "transitioned," he can seek a contract with another team, but the Packers would have the option to match. The Packers would not receive compensation for losing him. If he went unsigned by any other team through free agency, the Packers would owe him a one-year deal of the average salary of the top 10 players at his position.

Based on the Packers' list of upcoming free agents, designating Kampman with one of the above tags does not appear to be beneficial. Rarely do teams give up two first-round picks for a player and Kampman would be no different.

Furthermore, letting someone else dictate a player's contract terms is dangerous. If the Packers want Kampman and value him, like they should, they will work out a long-term deal soon. They do not have too many of their own free agents that have the leverage to command long-term contracts with a big signing bonus, which makes Kampman priority No. 1. Players like Ahman Green and Grady Jackson will be unrestricted free agents, but not likely to sign long-term deals with Packers. Green is coming off a major thigh injury and Jackson is entering the twilight of his career.

Kampman has worked his way to becoming one of the top players the old-fashioned way with hard work. Like new Packers' head coach Mike McCarthy, he has the background and personality that embodies what Green Bay is all about. For that, and plenty of other reasons, the Packers have to hang on to him. He is definitely worth a big contract.

Matt Tevsh

Editor's note: Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.

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