Commanders

Should Washington pay up for free agent LB De'Vondre Campbell?

Commanders
De'Vondre Campbell tackles Dax Milne

With the Super Bowl in the past and the 2021 season in the books, NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux and Matt Weyrich take a look at potential free agents that the Washington Commanders could benefit from signing this offseason. To conclude the series: LB De'Vondre Campbell.

Who the next quarterback of the Washington Commanders will be has headlined almost every offseason conversation around the team. Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Martin Mayhew both openly talked about the franchise's desire to upgrade at football's most important position during the NFL's Scouting Combine this past week.

Quarterback is a pressing need for the Commanders -- there's no doubt about that. But the continuous QB talk has also taken away from dissecting other major needs. And, outside of a franchise signal-caller, finding a true middle linebacker is at the top of that list.

As it stands now, the Commanders are slated to start Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis at linebacker next season. Both players have experience playing that middle linebacker position, but each of their skill sets is currently better served on the outside. Conventional wisdom suggests that adding a true middle linebacker would only elevate the play of both of those players.

Slotted to 11th in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Commanders could use that selection on a middle linebacker. Utah's Devin Lloyd and Georgia's Nakobe Dean are two realistic options. But Washington did just use its first-rounder on Davis last season, who was a middle linebacker in college. Other roster needs could take priority for Washington at pick No. 11.

 

So, what about free agency? The linebacker class isn't especially deep, but there are some talented players at the top. That list starts with De'Vondre Campbell, who burst onto the scene for the Packers this past season, earning first-team All-Pro honors.

Campbell's 2021 season was one of the best feel-good stories in the NFL. Campbell spent the first five seasons of his career in Atlanta, a solid starter but hardly a true impact player. That all changed when he signed a one-year deal in Green Bay this past offseason.

With early-season injuries to pass rusher Ze'Darious Smith and cornerback Jaire Alexander, two of Green Bay's defensive leaders, Campbell stepped up and became that 'quarterback' of the defense. Campbell finished with a career-high 146 tackles this season, including 102 solo tackles. He simply had a way of finding the football and making plays on it.

In Washington, Campbell would fit perfectly into the middle linebacker role in Jack Del Rio's defense. As mentioned earlier, the Commanders need a player like Campbell to control the second level of the defense. Adding Campbell -- a sure-tackler, durable, and overall talented player -- would only elevate the rest of the linebacker room, specifically Davis.

Campbell is best defending the run, and the Commanders' linebacker room currently lacks a run-stuffing linebacker. Campbell has struggled in coverage in the past. But, his deficiency in that aspect can be made up by Holcomb and Davis -- two players who are best on the outside where their speed can be showcased in a variety of ways.

After earning just a modest $2 million in 2021, Campbell is due for a large pay raise this offseason. Even at age 28, Campbell is the best middle linebacker available on the open market. The Packers surely want to retain Campbell, but he's expected to have several clubs vying for his services.

The big question, though, is how much money will he command? Campbell had a better season than any other available linebacker, but he also turns 29 in July and didn't break out until his sixth NFL season.

It's worth noting that we have seen multiple middle linebackers be late bloomers in recent years, though. Thomas Davis -- a player who didn't make his first Pro Bowl until his age 32 season before rattling off three-straight Pro Bowl nods -- is a perfect example. He's also a player Rivera is plenty familiar with.

Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio are both former NFL linebackers. They understand what it takes to play well at the position at the highest level, as well as the importance and impact linebacker brings to a defense. Don't be surprised if the team inquiries early on about Campbell's services, as he's the type of player that can help elevate the Commanders' defense back to top-five status.

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Other Free Agent Targets:

2 viable quarterbacks

Safety Marcus Williams

WR JuJu Smith-Schuster

2 veteran cornerback options

WR Mike Williams

WRs Chris Godwin, Michael Gallup

2 guards to replace Brandon Scherff

MLB Anthony Hitchens

MLB Leighton Vander Esch

2 interior depth defensive linemen

CB Donte Jackson

RBs Sony Michel, Chase Edmonds