The 50th pick in the 2008 NFL draft. After a roller-coaster 2008/9 rookie season, Campbell was promoted to the starting line-up after Antonio Smith left for the Texans and eight years of consistent excellence followed.
The two-time Pro Bowler and two-time All Pro has been the lynchpin of Arizona’s defensive line since his 2009 breakout season and has gone on to record 56.5 sacks (2nd all-time for the Cardinals) and 42 defended passes. All the more impressive coming from the 3-4 DE/DT spot.
If Campbell were to sign a new 2-3 contract his offseason it would be reasonable to think that he would overtake Freddie Joe Nunn’s Arizona sack record of 66.5 and cement his legacy as an all-time great Arizona Cardinal.
However. What if the Cardinals fail to bring Calais back to the desert?
First and foremost a player of Calais’s caliber could not be replaced by one player alone. It would almost certainly require a committee approach where all of the Cardinals young defensive line talent shoulder some of the load. Josh Mauro and Corey Peters are already pencilled in as rotational starters (primarily used on 1st and 2nd down) and both Rodney Gunter, Robert Nkemdiche have the athletic profiles to be disruptive, penetrative players. After failing to live up to expectations in 2016 Arizona needs both to emerge next season. That starts with practice habits and is forged with playing time.
And let us not forget nose-tackle Xavier Williams and defensive-end Olsen Pierre, both of whom the Cardinals are high on and held down roster spots for all of the 2016 season. The Cardinals kept 9 defensive lineman (very unusual for a team running a 3-4 front) and was careful not to expose any of them to the waiver wire in case they were poached by another team (that Marqui Christian situation still burns). The coaches clearly think they have some young talent in the trenches that is worth protecting and developing.
Campbell averaged 49 snaps per game in the 16 contests he played this season and produced 53 tackles/8 sacks/2 forced fumbles as well as 6 defended passes, 1 interception and 1 touchdown. Could the young players mentioned produce similar statistics?
Furthermore, in his 9 professional seasons Campbell has appeared or started in 138 of 144 possible regular season games. Availability is the most underrated yet important trait in the NFL and Campbell has certainly shown he is durable.
The players who replace him should bring similar continuity to the defense but would the playing standard remain once injuries begin to set in?
Part 2 tomorrow.