First, I'm going to begin by saying that I'm an Aaron Kampman fan. He's a great story, a great man, and a great football player. Over the course of his career, and especially after the 2007 season, Kampman has come to be regarded as one of the league's premire pass rushers.
However, he is not a great pass rusher, not even close.
A 5th round throw-in pick from the deal that landed the Packers Javon Walker in the first round, Kampman has spent his eight seasons in the NFL working harder and training smarter than almost anyone else in the NFL. He is without question one of the smartest defensive players in the league when it comes to the game of football. All of this does not add up to pass rushing greatness. Oh Kampman will collect his sacks - often times against the weakest of competition. He's good enough to beat the trash on a regular basis and will beat the odd journeyman. But when the chips are down, when the Packers absolutely need a sack, and Kampman is going against something more than a journeyman, you can forget it.
For a pass rusher to be truly great, he needs to be able to deliver the deciding blow for the defense when it needs it most. In the current game, think of Harrison, Ware or Allen. In the modern game, think of Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor or Richard Dent. Going back All-Time, of course, one can't help but think of Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen. All these guys have or had the ability to take over a game at the most important time. Put plainly, Kampman does not even come close to having this ability.
Now, I know many of my brethren in the Packer Blogosphere have floated the idea of trading Kampman and I have been quick to shoot them down each time. Yes, he could probably fetch a couple of draft picks, but then what for the Packers' pass rush? When your pass rush consists of one above average guy and a bunch of stiffs, you don't trade away the one above average guy, not unless you want to revert to having the defense count to '5 Mississippi'.
It will be interesting to see how Kampman takes to the new defense. Much has been made of his switch to OLB, and Kampman has, somewhat surprisingly, been completely silent on the issue. Hanging over all of this, of course, is the fact that he will be a free agent in 2010. And this is the crux of the issue. Kampman could get paid one of two ways - as a good all around football player, or as a pass rusher. If he is able to collect a bunch of sacks, his price will skyrocket. The Packers would be foolish to pay him along the lines of a Julius Peppers or a Jared Allen. He is simply not as gifted when it comes to getting to the quarterback as those types of players. And make no mistake, that is why Allen, Peppers and the like get the big bucks. Because they get to the quarterback with regularity. Packer fans know only too well what happens when a team overpays for 'pass rushing talent' based on reputation. The Packers are still eating through Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila's contract, another pass rusher that collected most of his sacks against inferior competition but could never deliver against the better offensive tackles in the league.
Some have intimated that Kampman plans on riding out this year and then hitting the free agent market so that he might sign with a team that runs a 4-3. I tend to think that's overblown a bit. I do think Kampman is concerned with the switch and is in 'wait-and-see' mode when it comes to Capers' schemes and how effective they end up being. To that end, he's not much different than the average Packer fan. But those fans, and more importantly, the Packers, should not let Kampman's reputation as a 'premire' pass rusher cloud their judgement when it comes time to resign him to anything more than a Packer-friendly contract.
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