Pack Can Afford To Wait On Kampman This Time

Aaron Kampman's switch from a 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 linebacker in 2009 produced mixed results at best. While Kampman certainly has value, the defense played faster and better with rookie Brad Jones. Our Matt Tevsh provides the commentary.

Five years ago, the Packers could not afford to lose Aaron Kampman.

At that time, Kampman was a 25-year-old defensive end who was on the rise and a budding pass rusher. So, when the Vikings signed him to an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, it took the Packers only one day to exercise their first-refusal rights to match the contract and keep Kampman in Green Bay.

Five years later, Kampman is on the verge of free agency again. When the clock strikes 11:01 p.m. Central time on Thursday, he is expected to hit the market as an unrestricted player, and although the Packers have said they would like the eight-year veteran back and plan to offer him a contract, there is not the same urgency to sign him this time around.

That the Packers chose not to franchise tag or transition tag Kampman, or offer him a long-term deal, speaks to the nature of the situation. At 30, Kampman is coming off a transitional season cut short after nine games by a major knee injury. Few doubt that Kampman will bounce back because of his work ethic, but after that, his on-field value to the Packers is debatable.

Kampman's switch from a 4-3 scheme defensive end to a 3-4 scheme outside linebacker in 2009 produced mixed results at best. On one hand, Kampman played the position relatively mistake-free and seemed to grasp the concepts, but on the other hand, he hardly made an impact — or the type of impact that a 3-4 outside linebacker should make.

While Kampman's 28 quarterback hits in nine games were impressive, his 3.5 sacks were well below his pace over the previous three seasons. Playing a position built for raw speed and power, Kampman's technical attributes, in his new role, were less advantageous going up against offensive tackles.

Some will argue that Kampman was showing signs of improvement before his injury and that he should be given a full season in the 3-4, but considering the Packers had him playing with his hand on the ground in certain situations by midseason was a sign that they needed to get more out of him. Or at the least, they were trying to play more to his strengths.

Such was not the case when rookie Brad Jones took over after Kampman's injury. The Packers played Jones exclusively as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 and their defense seemed to play much faster and much better. Jones recorded four sacks over the last five games, and the Packers were ranked No. 1 or 2 defensively in the league over the last six weeks of the regular season.

It would be unfair to label Kampman as the weak spot. He was far from it. But even if Kampman is fully recovered, the Packers have to forecast what their defense is with him and where it could be headed without him, and make financial decisions from that evaluation.

Kampman owes it to himself to test the market — this year especially. Being an uncapped year, it gives him a chance, even with his injury, to earn a bigger, long-term contract, not to mention a spot among the league's sack leaders.

With 19 of the 32 NFL teams expected to run 4-3 defenses next season, it also gives Kampman a chance to get back to the scheme he became a Pro Bowler in racking up 50.5 career sacks.

Should nothing pan out during the unrestricted free agent period, the Packers might enter the picture again. But this is a different Packers defense and a different situation, and this time, the Packers can afford to go in another direction.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at

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