Green Bay Packers

Does De'Vondre Campbell Fit Into Green Bay's New Defense?

Photo Credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

After exceeding expectations in the first year of the Jordan Love era, the Green Bay Packers must address a few important positions to build upon that success. New defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley will remake the defense in his image. While we haven’t heard it directly from the man himself yet, Hafley’s previous roles hint at a move to a 4-3 base front and an increased focus on press coverage.

The Packers will use some of their draft capital on rookies who fit into Hafley’s new scheme. While safety and cornerbacks seem like a given, off-ball linebacker could be a sneaky need. That will be especially true if the Packers move on from De’Vondre Campbell.

Although he’s still under contract, the Packers could get out of Campbell’s expensive deal to save some cap space this season and be free of the dead-cap hit by 2025. Campbell was a locker room leader and dominant presence in his 2021 First-Team All-Pro season. But his play hasn’t lived up to his debut season in Green Bay, and injuries have started taking their toll.

Will Campbell be back with the Pack in 2024?

The Packers have always struggled to find inside linebackers. Since A.J. Hawk‘s departure, Green Bay has attacked the position with mostly mid-round draft picks and bargain-bin free agents. So, following the play of Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Christian Kirksey, and Oren Burks, expectations weren’t super high when the Packers signed Campbell off the street.

Campbell had been decent, if unremarkable, in his previous stints. But he came alive in 2021 and thrived in Joe Barry’s defense, eventually earning First-Team All-Pro honors. He was the first Packers inside linebacker to earn that honor since Ray Nitschke in 1966.

That performance earned Campbell a five-year, $50 million contract to stay in Green Bay as one of the leaders on defense.

The Packers doubled down on inside linebackers by drafting Quay Walker in the first round in 2022, and it looked like Green Bay had finally locked down the position. But Campbell didn’t replicate his 2021 season in ‘22, and PFF dropped him from an 84.7 grade to a 75.6. Campbell was still effective, scoring his first touchdown against the Washington Commanders in Week 7. But his total tackles, turnovers, and games played dropped.

Campbell regressed even further in 2023, finishing the season with a 65.3 PFF grade. He lacked speed and physicality in his play and became a liability in coverage. He surrendered 135 passing yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which was the most allowed by a Green Bay inside linebacker since 2006.

When targeted in the regular season, Campbell gave up 390 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 135.7. He had no interceptions after snagging two per season in his first two years in Green Bay.

But Campbell also dealt with injuries throughout the season. Campbell even publicly commented on Twitter that he wouldn’t play through injuries anymore.

We don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, and there were plenty of rumors about the player’s perception of Joe Barry at that point in the season. Was poor handling of his injury to blame for Campbell’s relatively poor 2023 season? It’s worth noting that Barry and the strength-and-coordinating staff are no longer with the team.

On the plus side, Campbell offers leadership, communication skills, and depth at a position that lacks much of it. Campbell still had a higher PFF grade than fellow ILBs Walker and Isaiah McDuffie.

And a new scheme could open new doors for Campbell. Just like his first season in Green Bay brought life to his career, a new scheme could do the same in 2024. A 4-3 base means more need for inside linebackers on the field, and the Packers don’t really have many options on the roster.

However, Green Bay needs speed, physicality, and coverage ability at that position, which are areas Campbell struggled with in 2023. The team will likely look at options in the draft, which would be much cheaper.

Releasing Campbell wouldn’t save much money this season. According to Spotrac, his cap hit will be over $14 million in 2024, and cutting him will only clear up about $3 million. That’s not huge savings. But it would mean that the Packers would be clear from that dead cap money in 2025, a year where they are expected to free up much of their financial woes. It’s a tough call, but the sooner Green Bay moves on, the sooner they can get beyond the dead money.

Campbell’s 2021 season may have been what the Packers feared most — a one-year wonder. That All-Pro year is increasingly looking like an outlier, and they’ve invested a lot of money in a non-premium position to get only average results. For a team going through a youth movement and entering a new defensive era, they have a big decision to make regarding one of their few established veterans.

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Photo Credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

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