Green Bay Packers and Early Free Agency: A Tale of Two Signings

Jersey Al Bracco@JerseyAlGBPSenior Analyst IMarch 9, 2010

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Yes, the first few days of free agency was a mixed bag for Green Bay Packers fans.

While Packer nation breathed a collective sigh of relief that Chad Clifton would be back to protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side, there is also a sadness that permeates the Packer faithful.

Aaron Kampman, a favorite son, has left behind the bitter winds of Green Bay for the balmy breezes of Jacksonville, Florida.

Re-signing Clifton was as close to a “must-do” as Ted Thompson has ever faced as Packers GM. With the Packers now a playoff-caliber team, leaving the left tackle position to unproven TJ Lang or a rookie draft pick would have endangered the welfare of their Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers. That could be a sure-fire way to sabotage a season.

The man known as “Cliffy” will be back.

One could smirk and say Thompson went against form and signed the best unrestricted free agent offensive tackle on the market, but by doing so, Thompson spared himself the angst of having to consider dipping into the restricted free agent market. That, I’m sure, would have been painful for him to even think about.

As Clifton returns, Kampman heads for greener pastures. When the move was made to a 3-4 defense, I wanted so badly to believe that he could make the adjustment to linebacker. I wanted to believe it, but I just didn’t.

Many tried to convince me.

They pointed out that he had played LB his first two years at the University of Iowa. Others said that a good football player is a good football player, regardless of what position he is asked to play. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that theory.

I anxiously watched the Packers exhibition games. What I saw was not promising.

Kampman was clearly a little lost and over-matched in coverage. Unable to fluidly change direction on the run, he did not look comfortable in the defensive backfield. But it was only preseason, I told myself, again hoping…

As the season wore on, however, I didn’t see much improvement. Even rushing the passer did not come easily to Kampman. Starting from a standing position, he lacked the low power base and leverage he used to depend on to beat the hulking offensive tackles that often outweighed him by 50 pounds.

Kampman was often stood up, breaking the momentum he would normally generate on the way to the quarterback. To his credit, he never stopped or gave up, resulting in a good number of quarterback “hurries,” but not many sacks.

Unfortunately, when Kampman’s season came to an early end, the book closed on his career as a Green Bay Packer. With free agency looming, and his obvious unease with the positional change, fleeing the Packers for a team with a 4-3 defense was a foregone conclusion.

Nobody can blame him.

The Packers would say all the right things, claiming to want to keep Aaron and offer him a contract. Whether they ever did or didn’t is unknown, but if they did, it was surely an offer they knew would be easily surpassed by other teams.

Aaron Kampman was a great Green Bay Packer, but not just on the field. A man of faith, he is committed to a life of service. Whether helping AIDS babies in Africa or people in the tornado-ravaged towns of his home state of Iowa, Kampman has always been there for others. He was a leader, a great role model, and the epitome of “Packer People.”

As Nick Barnett wrote in a Twitter message, Kampman would be sorely missed in the Packers locker room.

The unfortunate reality is that through no fault of his own, he won’t be missed as much on the field. When a rookie seventh-round draft choice can come in and do a good enough job replacing you, in the all-business NFL you won’t last long for that position, or that team.

The day Mike McCarthy made the decision to move to a 3-4 defense was the day that Kampman’s Packers legacy came to an end. I don’t believe anybody wanted it to work out that way, and both Kampman and the coaches did everything they could to forge a successful transition, but some things just can’t be forced by will alone.

Much like Sydney Carton in Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities was willing to sacrifice his own life to bring happiness to someone he loved, so Kampman was willing to sacrifice his All-Pro career as a defensive end for the benefit of the Green Bay Packers.

Thinking about what he is about to do, Carton declares, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

When he agreed to move to linebacker, Aaron Kampman could easily have been thinking the same thing.

Best of Luck, Aaron. We’ll see you in the Packers Hall of Fame one day.


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Jersey Al Bracco is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com. You can find more of Jersey Al ’s articles on several sports web sites: NFL Touchdown , Packers Lounge , Packer Chatters , & Bleacher Report .


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