After the 2005-2006 season, Aaron Kampman was coming off a career-best 6.5 sacks, giving him 13.5 for his four-year career. His sack totals had climbed steadily from 0.5 his rookie year as a fifth-round pick out of Iowa, to 2.0 the next year, and to 4.5 to 6.5 after 2005.
He was a just serviceable DE going into his fifth season, and the Packers gave him a four-year $21 million extension. That may have been the best bargain the Pack made all decade.
Kampman exploded in 2006, more than doubling his career total with 15.5 sacks, behind Shawne Merriman's 17.0 for the NFL lead. The next year he totalled 12.5, and he notched 9.5 sacks in 2008. He's made two Pro Bowls and had the most sacks in the NFL from 2007-2009.
This year, his career hit a bit of a speed bump, as he regressed to only 3.5 sacks after moving to three-four OLB this year. Now, he's suffered a torn ACL, an injury which may even keep him from being ready for the start of the 2010 season.
So, what do the Packers do with Kampman?
The three-four defense has shown potential this season. Clay Matthews is showing promise as a pass-rushing linebacker one one side, but Kampman was really nothing special.
He's not good in coverage and struggles rushing the quarterback from a standing position. He's a pure defensive end, excelling at rushing from the hand-down position.
Assuming the Packers stay with the three-four defense, there really is no place for Kampman here in Green Bay.
What do you do with one of the best pass rushers in the NFL who has no place on your team?
Kampman has been, historically, a very durable player, not missing a game due to injury until this year. Here's betting that at least one NFL team will assume he returns full-strength and would be willing to trade a good draft pick or two for his pass-rushing prowess.
The only problem is that the Kampman is a free agent at the end of the year, meaning they would have to sign him before they can get rid of him, which is potentially disastrous.
Kampman won't come cheap, so if no team is willing to meet the Pack's demands, they'll be stuck overpaying for a player they have little use for.
The Packers won't want to just let Kampman walk, but they won't want to sign him long term. The answer is simple: the franchise tag.
Green Bay has cap room to spare, and since there's no advantage in not using the cap space, they can spare it to lock up Kampman for a year.
Designating Kampman as the franchise player would pay him somewhere around $8,304,000, based on last year's numbers.
The Packers would designate Kampman with a non-exclusive tag, meaning Kampman can negotiate with other teams. This would allow the Packers to find suitors for Kampman, trade partners, as they did with Corey Williams in 2007 (the Pack later traded Williams to the Browns for a second-round pick).
Green Bay has a lot of needs they need to address in the offseason: Shoring up the offensive line, getting a more productive pass rush, and finding the heir for Charles Woodson and Al Harris, which was made more pressing with Harris' injury.
With what's shaping up to be a mid-first-round pick, there are many players who could address these needs: Patrick Robinson (CB) from Florida State; Mike Iutui (OG) from Idaho; or Jerry Hughes (DE, projected three-four OLB) from TCU would all be options, as at least one should be available. Whatever isn't addressed can be looked at in the second round.
But there are three needs and only two top picks. Trading Kampman would give the Packers another second-rounder, even a late first-rounder (remember what the Chiefs got for Jared Allen).
If Green Bay wants to be a playoff team in the future—and they have the tools to be—they need to address these needs, and Kampman presents them with a potentially great, albeit risky, opportunity to satisfy them.