Arizona Cardinals: What Should Team Do With Calais Campbell in NFL Free Agency?

As the Arizona Cardinals head into the offseason and 2017 NFL free agency, re-signing Calais Campbell should be a priority.

After a run to the NFC Championship Game and falling just short of a Super Bowl 50 berth, the Arizona Cardinals appeared destined for another run atop the conference. Between poor offensive line play, inconsistent early-season play from Carson Palmer, and injuries through the defense, though, things played out much differently in the 2016 NFL season.

The Cardinals finished well short of the playoffs with a 7-8-1 record and with plenty of questions heading into the offseason. Some of those questions have already been answered with Palmer and legendary wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald returning for another season. However, one of the biggest questions remaining lies in 2017 NFL free agency, specifically regarding defensive end Calais Campbell.

A second-round pick in 2008, Campbell was taken out of Miami and has remained with the franchise since. Now 30 years old (he’ll be 31 at the start of the 2017 season), the veteran is slated to hit the open market. With outside linebacker Chandler Jones set for the same fate, what then should the Cardinals do with the elder statesmen of their defense?

One of the trademarks of Campbell has been his durability and consistency since coming to Arizona. In nine seasons, the Hurricanes product has missed a mere six games. Sure, he’s battled through injuries, but he’s a sure bet to suit up every week. What’s more, there’s been consistency in his production as well.

Campbell has recorded fewer than six sacks just once since the 2009 season while having at least seven run stuffs credited to him in each year since 2010, per ESPN. However, all of Campbell’s production can’t be quantified statistically. The disruption that having a 6-8, 300-pound monster with uncanny quickness for his size can cause is invaluable for a defense. Even when he’s not directly involved in ending a play, the attention he demands helps put his teammates in position to do so.

At his age, however, the concern is obviously that Campbell’s best years might be behind him. While he posted eight sacks on the season in 2016, he had his lowest combined tackle total since 2009. Factoring that into the history of defensive linemen starting to suffer injuries and slowing down in effectiveness in their 30s and it’s not hard to conjure up a bit of apprehension about potentially re-signing the big man.

Even so, Spotrac lists Campbell’s market value at $8.3 million annually, comparing his deal to that of recently extended rival, Michael Bennett, with the Seattle Seahawks. It’s not hard to imagine a defense-hungry team in free agency offering that number or more on the open market. But with the fact that Campbell has spent nine years with the Cardinals while the franchise has too remained loyal to him, there’s at least the possibility that he’d take a discount to try and make one more run in Arizona.

And even if he didn’t, the Cards still have roughly $32 million in cap space (per Over The Cap) this offseason before they make inevitable salary dumps prior to the start of free agency. Thus, committing approximately a quarter of that space to re-sign Campbell wouldn’t be a bad way to make a splash.

Though it may not be the popular narrative as many call for the Cardinals to supplant Palmer with a quarterback in the draft and for other rebuilding-type moves this offseason, there’s a chance that 2016 was in fact the outlier with this group as opposed to 2015’s successful run. With additions to the offensive line and middle of the defense, they could potentially be right back in contention.

Therefore, retaining a player such as Campbell is a must for the Cardinals. Other than his tackle numbers dipping slightly, he’s shown no signs of slowing and has been as much of an iron man as ever before. What’s more, general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians have always given the air of a familial culture in Arizona. Included in that type of culture is taking care of your own. Campbell is indeed that and a player that will be integral to the team returning to form in 2017.

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