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The 2017 Cardinals: Which departed free agent will they miss most?

The time is near.

On July 21, the Arizona Cardinals will report to training camp with their first official practice coming the following day at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

From there, the team will build the foundation for what it hopes will be a playoff-caliber campaign with a reshaped roster bouncing back from the disappointment that was 2016.

In the days leading up to the opening of camp, we thought we would ask our Arizona Sports panelists a series of questions related to the Cardinals and their prospects for 2017. There are five in total.

Before we get into today’s, here are the published editions:

• Who must step up in training camp?

• Biggest strength and greatest weakness

• What kind of QB is Carson Palmer now?

Which departed free agent will the team miss the most?

John Gambadoro, co-host of Burns & Gambo

I’ll go with Tony Jefferson over Calais Campbell because I believe they have the depth on the defensive line — but I’m not so sure about the depth at safety. Jefferson was so good at what he did, and I can’t see Antoine Bethea being able to duplicate that or even come close.

Mike Jurecki, co-host of The Blitz with B-Train and Jurecki as well as Cardinals insider

They lost five starters on defense and over 5,000 snaps. Jefferson was the defensive MVP a year ago, but how much will they miss defensive lineman Campbell? He faced a lot of double teams in the trenches and they didn’t sign or draft any other players at the position during offseason. A significant concern is if opposing teams are able to run the ball against the front seven. Arizona is counting on former first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche, Rodney Gunter, and Olsen Pierre to replace Campbell, who is my pick.

Vince Marotta, co-host of Bickley and Marotta

I know Campbell is the obvious choice, but I’m going with Jefferson. I think he should have been paid following a 2015 season in which he was a productive, yet unsung hero on a defense that helped Arizona win 13 games. For whatever reason, he was undervalued by the Cardinals’ front office, and I think his absence will be felt.

Craig Grialou, Arizona Sports reporter

The easy answer is Campbell. That’s a big hole, literally and figuratively, now along the Cardinals defensive line. While Campbell didn’t wow people, including head coach Bruce Arians at times, with his gameday stats, he did attract double teams allowing others to make plays. The Cardinals say they have the depth to overcome Campbell’s loss, but that remains to be seen.

Dave Burns, co-host of Burns and Gambo

Calais. Long underappreciated by both fans and his own coach, I think his true value will be evident by his absence. They think they can fill the void. We’ll see.

Doug Franz, co-host of Doug and Wolf

Campbell because Nkemdiche heard he had an effort problem for months before and after the draft and still came to camp unmotivated last year.

Adam Green, Arizona Sports reporter and co-host of Arizona Sports Saturday

It is difficult to not pick anyone other than Campbell, given the fact that he was a mainstay along the defense line, a leader and a unique talent. That said, if either one of Nkemdiche, Pierre or Gunter take the next step, the Cardinals may be alright without the now-Jacksonville Jaguar. Therefore, I will go with Jefferson, who had grown into being a reliable safety both in run support and in coverage. The Cardinals have plenty of talent in their defensive backfield, but do not have anyone to fill Jefferson’s role.

Craig Morgan, Arizona Sports reporter and columnist

Campbell. Jefferson was a terrific player for Arizona; a guy for whom it was impossible not to root because he was so committed, so driven, so open with his thoughts and yes, such a great quote, but the Cardinals are deep at safety with Tyrann Mathieu in the fold, Bethea signed and second-round draft pick Budda Baker showing immense potential. Campbell was versatile and consistent, even if he never reached the elite status for which Arians was consistently pushing. There is enormous pressure on largely unproven commodities Gunter and Nkemdiche to fill the void, and their effectiveness at doing so could also impact the effectiveness of pass-rushing specialist Chandler Jones and others.

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