Building a roster isn’t only about free agency in March and the draft in April.
Proof of that came almost exactly one year ago. On June 9, the second day of the Green Bay Packers’ mandatory minicamp, De’Vondre Campbell walked onto the practice field with his No. 59 jersey draped over his shoulder.
“Inside ‘backer was obviously one of those things that we were hoping to address maybe earlier in the draft. It just didn’t happen to fall that way for us,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said after the 2021 draft. “As we move forward, I’ve talked a lot about roster building being 365 days a year, so we’ll continue to look at that.”
In the case of Campbell, he was signed 87 days after the start of free agency. For a paltry one-year, $2 million contract, the Packers had their first All-Pro linebacker since Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke.
Signings like Campbell are extremely rare. There aren’t many quality starters available so deep into free agency.
Moreover, while the typical free agent can get acclimated to his new surroundings, teammates and playbook at the start of the offseason program, late additions like Campbell arrive late to the party.
“My situation is a little bit different right now because I signed so late in the offseason, so I didn’t have the full offseason with these guys,” Campbell said early in training camp. “Right now is where I’m trying to make my adjustments and figure out who the guys are around me, what their strengths and weaknesses are, them figuring me out, as well. This first week has definitely been a great learning experience, just getting out there with my teammates, making mistakes and being able to correct them and get on the same page together.”
The 33rd Team, the site co-founded by former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum, listed the top 11 June signings since 2000. Campbell was one of them. He was one of just five over the last decade.
“Although it’s too early to tell what the rest of De’Vondre Campbell’s career will turn into with the Packers, he was truly a difference maker for Green Bay in his first season with the franchise,” author Brian Friedland wrote as part of his summation. “Campbell was named a first-team All-Pro as one of the key cogs in a unit that finished 10th in both passing yards allowed per game and rushing yards allowed per game after struggling immensely on that side of the ball the past few seasons.”
In his sixth season, Campbell set career highs with 146 tackles and a combined four forced fumbles and interceptions. He parlayed his big season into a five-year deal worth $50 million this offseason.
It will be interesting to see if the Packers, at the end of organized team activities and their minicamp, revisit their question mark-filled receiver corps. Gutekunst signed veteran Sammy Watkins and drafted Christian Watson, Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure to add to the returning group that includes Allen Lazard, Randall Cobb, Juwann Winfree and Malik Taylor.
Odell Beckham, Julio Jones and Will Fuller are among the receivers still available. Beckham might not be available until December following last year’s torn ACL, Jones is coming an injury-filled last couple seasons and Fuller has had a mostly injury-plagued career.