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NFL.com’s Brandt: Calais Campbell one of free agents teams will miss the most

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) celebrates a defensive stop against the Green Bay Packers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

When defensive end Calais Campbell signed a four-year, $60 million contract to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars, it left a huge hole on the Arizona Cardinals’ defense — both literally and figuratively.

Although free agency is still in full swing and the draft isn’t for another month and a half, it is highly unlikely the Cardinals can find a player capable of replacing everything the 6-foot-8, 300-pounder brought to the table.

Campbell made Second-Team All-Pro in 2016 after accounting for 63 tackles and eight sacks, and left Arizona second in franchise history for the latter category.

For this reason, NFL media senior analyst Gil Brandt ranked Campbell among his list of 10 free agents former teams will miss the most.

It’s hard to replace an athletic competitor who can thrive at defensive tackle and defensive end. If 2016 first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche can recover from a lost rookie season and play to his potential, or if Rodney Gunter can take a step, the loss of Campbell won’t be as great as it might seem now, aside from the veteran leadership Campbell is taking with him. Nkemdiche does have a lot of ability and quickness.

As noted, the options to replace Campbell range from unproven to underwhelming.

Nkemdiche recorded one tackle after the Cardinals took him with the 30th overall pick last year, and Gunter had 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his second season in the league.

Josh Mauro recorded 32 tackles last season but failed to record a single sack in 15 games, while veteran defensive end Frostee Rucker is still a free agent.

Campbell’s interior presence also diverted attention away from outside linebackers Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, who finished with 12.5 and 11 sacks, respectively, and allowed Arizona to post a league-leading 48 sacks in 2017.

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