Releasing De’Vondre Campbell turns linebacker into big need for Packers

Pencil in linebacker near the top of the Green Bay Packers’ biggest roster needs entering free agency, which begins this week. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers will release veteran De’Vondre Campbell on Wednesday, the first day of the new league year, underlining the need for general manager Brian Gutekunst to add to the linebacker position in a big way this offseason.

Linebacker was going to be a need for the Packers regardless. But without Campbell, the Packers will be down to Quay Walker, Isaiah McDuffie and undrafted safety convert Christian Young as the only three linebackers on the roster entering free agency.

Not only are the Packers transitioning to a 4-3 base defense — requiring three off-ball linebackers — under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, but now Campbell is departing, and special teamers and backups Eric Wilson and Kristian Welch are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.

Per Silverstein, the Packers are expecting to use Walker as the new weak side linebacker.

McDuffie, a 2021 draft pick, is entering his fourth season after starting eight games and playing over 500 defensive snaps in 2023. He could be viewed as one of the expected starters — possibly in the middle, at “Mike” — in 2024. But even if the Packers like McDuffie as a starter, one spot in the base defense is still wide open. And it’s unclear if McDuffie is a preferred option in nickel when two linebackers are on the field.

The Packers could dip into free agency to find a free agent starting option. Jerome Baker, who played for Packers linebackers coach Anthony Campanile, is available, for instance. The draft is another option if the Packers want to go younger and cheaper. Expect the Packers to re-sign Wilson, Welch or both, considering their value on special teams.

Gutekunst and the Packers were once very excited about teaming Walker and Campbell together at linebacker, but the combo never took off. Walker played through the typical ups and downs of being a young player, and Campbell dealt with injuries and performance regression.

Now, the Packers must get Walker’s next sidekick right. He’s entering an important third season and will be in a new defense, possibly one that could let him run and hit more from the weakside.

Obviously, the Packers need a safety. The defense, as currently constructed, needs two new starting safeties. But with Campbell on the way out, linebacker is another big need in the Packers defensive back seven entering free agency.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire