The Oakland Raiders need help on the defensive line, and Calais Campbell is exactly the guy for the job.
Khalil Mack had another monster season and is a highly coveted pick for Defensive Player of the Year. Bruce Irvin — self proclaimed “Robin” to Mack’s “Batman” — was pretty solid, too. But the Oakland Raiders defensive line had a lackluster season as a whole, mainly due to lack of pressure from the inside.
Mario Edwards Jr. played all but two games this season because of a serious neck injury. After having a good year in 2015, starting nine games alongside Dan Williams, Justin Ellis only started four games this season and lost significant playing time. Williams had weight issues and regressed drastically, finishing with only 17 combined tackles, compared to 48 in 2015. Second-round pick Jihad Ward failed to meet any expectations and made basically no impact whatsoever.
To be fair to those who deserved it, Darius Latham showed promise, Stacy McGee contributed with 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 17 tackles in just nine games — which are similar numbers as those of Denico Autry, who also had 2.5 sacks, 2 fumbles recovered and 29 tackles.
It is clear that the Raiders need help on the defensive side of the ball.
Enter Calais Campbell.
Campbell is set to be a free agent and has already said in an interview with Adam Green of Arizona Sports that he does not know if he’s played his last game in Arizona:
"“I have no idea – the harsh reality is it could be. We’ll see how that goes come offseason”."
It sure seems that he will at the very least entertain offers from elsewhere, in view of the Cardinals’ salary cap situation.
The Cardinals should have slightly less than $40 million to spend in offseason, according to Spotrac, which puts them right in the middle of the pack. That space under the cap would theoretically be sufficient to re-sign Campbell. However, they also need to address the situations of Tony Jefferson, D.J. Swearinger, Mike Jenkins, Frostee Rucker and Chandler Jones — all defensive starters — who will certainly command a large chunk of the team’s cap.
Not to mention the “Brown Brothers”, John and Jaron, who will become free agents in 2018, but may also be re-signed this year. And while, Larry Fitzgerald is a surefire Hall of Famer, he can’t play forever, so the Cardinals may be interested in locking up either of the Brown’s early.
Although Campbell is listed as a 3-4 defensive end, he could certainly — and sometimes does — play as a 4-3 defensive tackle, given his massive frame at 6’8″ and 300 pounds. Just so you have an idea, Mack is listed at 6’3″ and 250 pounds. Campbell is a juggernaut. Period. And among free agents, that juggernaut ended 2016 as PFF’s highest-graded defensive end. By far.
Another very impressive detail is Campbell’s consistency since his second year in the league. He played full seasons in all but three years of his career and only missed a grand total of six games.
Talking about averages, Calais never had less than 5 sacks and 34 tackles since 2009. On top of that, in 2016, Campbell even sprinkled in 1 safety, 6 passes defended and 1 interception among his already fantastic numbers. The guy’s the whole package and is able to create havoc from basically anywhere he lines up.
Check out some of his highlights:
A disruptive force like that is exactly what the Raiders need to make its defensive line unstoppable, also because nobody knows what will happen with Aldon Smith, who could bolster the team’s pass rushing unit if reinstated by the league.
One might say — and this is obviously a reasonable opinion — that Campbell will be 31 years old by the start of next season so the Raiders should turn to the draft and try to find a defensive tackle for the future. The thing is, this draft class is not stacked with good defensive tackles, at least according to most analysts.
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In his first mock draft, NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah — a former scout with the Ravens, Browns and Eagles — has not a single defensive tackle being drafted in the first round, for example. Of course, Reggie McKenzie might always be able to sniff something and find a hidden gem in the later rounds, but we cannot take this for granted.
A major problem, though, will be Campbell’s high price tag. His 2016 salary was a hefty $11 million, and he is expected to command even more on his upcoming contract. Among defensive tackles, only Ndamukong Suh, Fletcher Cox, Marcell Dareus, Gerald McCoy, Malik Jackson and Michael Brockers made more money than Campbell last season. If you count defensive ends, only Muhammad Wilkerson, Olivier Vernon, J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn and Cameron Jordan made more. It is fair to say that Campbell will look for one last big paycheck.
But the Raiders are in flexible situation cap-wise, with almost $50 million to spend. However, most of that money may end up going to Derek Carr and re-signing a dozen or so other players.
Even if the team cuts a few vets like Dan Williams, Reggie Nelson, Nate Allen, Malcolm Smith and Sebastian Janikowski, they would still have less than $30 million to spend. As such, it might be too risky to devote, let’s say, $12 or more million to Campbell.
Ultimately, I don’t think McKenzie will even make an offer to Calais, but if he did, he would upgrade the Raiders defensive line immensely.