Down And Out?

Aaron Kampman will not play again this year for the Packers after suffering an ACL injury Sunday against the 49ers. Now, his status turns to free agency, where, as our Matt Tevsh explains, Kampman is not likely to stay in Green Bay, either.

Packer Report ran down Aaron Kampman in the locker room after last Thursday's practice. Free agency was the topic and the question was, "With the uncertainly with the collective bargaining agreement, is this a good or bad year to be an unrestricted free agent?"

"I think it's always good to be a free agent," he said. "That's just my opinion."

Less than a week later, Kampman might not think that anymore. After sustaining a serious knee injury Sunday against the 49ers, which has been reported as a torn ACL, he is out for the season. The feeling here is that he has played his last down for the Packers.

Kampman is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent following the season and his untimely injury only complicates matters.

Can the Packers really offer Kampman a long-term deal with this injury?

Can Kampman demand a lucrative contract on the open market now?

Do the Packers even want him? Does he want the Packers?

Remember, this was an unsettling transition year for Kampman, going from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Critics of the move will point to Kampman's initial silence during the OTAs and then his terse remarks shortly thereafter as signs of disappointment with the move to a new position.

Through it all, Kampman did what he does best — he put his head down and went to work. He practiced diligently through the offseason and training camp with outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene to learn his new spot. He jumped on board with the move, even with the appearance of lingering doubt, and proved he could play linebacker as the regular season wore on.

In 10 games, Kampman led the team in quarterback hits (28) and was tied for second on the team with 55 tackles. He was assignment-sure in pass coverage. Those were the good points.

What Kampman lacked, though, was impact, like that of rookie teammate Clay Matthews at the other outside linebacker spot. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was searching for more play-making from the eight-year veteran. In recent weeks, the Packers gave him a chance to rush out of a three-point stance, which proved to be only slightly more effective, if not typical of a 3-4 scheme.

Kampman forced just one fumble this season on a swipe-sack of the Rams' Marc Bulger. All of his sacks came against losing teams. And even more telling, he was on pace for his lowest sack total since 2004. He had already seen that total decrease the previous three years. The 3-4 was supposed to reverse that trend, not contribute to it.

As much as Kampman played soundly in his new role, his strengths were no longer evident in the Capers' scheme. The skills he displayed using his hands and leverage as a down lineman applied much less as a linebacker. He was a technical player playing a speed position.

Before Kampman went down Sunday, many thought he was a candidate to be tagged as a franchise player in the offseason and possibly traded thereafter. General manager Ted Thompson pulled off that move masterfully in 2008 with Corey Williams, a similarly productive defensive player who was traded to the Browns for a second-round pick.

Now, the Packers have to look to another route. It is unlikely any team will give up anything for a player in the midst of rehabilitating from a serious knee injury who might not be ready for the 2010 season opener. Furthermore, the Packers would be on the hook for $9 million with the franchise designation on Kampman.

That the Packers have not gotten a deal done with Kampman and his agent, Neil Cornrich, says something, too. Thompson has always identified his core players and gotten them to sign long-term deals before they hit free agency. Wide receiver Greg Jennings was one such example earlier this year.

Why the Packers did not do the same with Kampman, especially considering the likelihood of an uncapped 2010 in the NFL, at least shows they were curious about Kampman in a new defense. Why else would they not want to lock up a player that fits the organization's ideals so perfectly?

The bottom line today is that giving Kampman a long-term deal now makes little sense to the Packers. The fit, the timing and the dollars fail to add up. In many ways, that is shame because Kampman has been a model professional, a productive player and a sure Packers Hall of Famer.

Kampman's injury should have no affect on the interest he receives in free agency, just the dollars. His work ethic is just too good, he'll only be 30 and recoveries from ACL reconstruction are less daunting today than they once were.

More than likely, Kampman is headed for an open market without a salary cap, and in that case, he will be as good as gone.


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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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