Calais Campbell's decision to sign with Falcons suggests there's something brewing in Atlanta
It seems like every website, podcast, magazine, television talking head and, oh, heavy equipment operator and deep fry cook in America has a prediction on the upcoming NFL season. Who is rising. Who is falling. Who will win.
Opinions are everywhere, but the ones that often ring truest come from those with some skin in the game.
And that’s why it rings out that on Wednesday veteran defensive lineman Calais Campbell agreed to a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons — rather than a slew of other options.
Campbell is 36 years old. While he still has game, including 5.5 sacks a year ago in Baltimore, he is nowhere near the best free agent available this offseason, or even his former game-wrecking self in Arizona and Jacksonville. He doesn’t by himself make the Falcons a Super Bowl team. He may play only half the defensive snaps this season.
His choosing Atlanta does, however, suggest that a serious playoff run is no longer a figment of fan imagination. It’s a once-cautious dream that has grown both rapidly and rabidly as general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith have impressively rebooted the franchise to consecutive 7-10 seasons.
As the oldest defensive lineman in the league with career earnings of $134.5 million per Spotrac.com, guys like Campbell are playing for legacy, championships and a love of the game.
He doesn’t need this. He wants this.
And plenty of teams wanted him. It wasn’t just for his on-field production either.
The University of Miami product has long been regarded as one of the best people and leaders in football, casting a locker room presence even larger than his 6-foot-8, 310-pound frame. He has been named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year and won the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. He runs the CRC, an established education and community mentorship program.
This is the kind of guy every team could use.
It’s part of why Baltimore hoped to still retain him despite having to initially cut him to make room for a Lamar Jackson offer. Jacksonville, meanwhile, was looking to get him back to where he recorded 31.5 sacks from 2017-2019.
Additionally, Campbell had meetings set up with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills for later this week. And Detroit made it abundantly clear how much it wanted him to line up next to young pass rushing talents Aidan Hutchinson (9.5 sacks) and James Houston (8).
"Oh, my gosh. I just keep watching [game footage],” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Tuesday at the NFL owners meetings. “... He's just a force to be reckoned with. You put him in a closed end, you're not running over there. He can rush as a 3-technique, still, on third down. Man, he's got length, he's got size, he's still quick."
Baltimore was home and Campbell noted how much he loved the city and franchise. The Bills have been Super Bowl contenders for the past couple years. The Jags won a playoff game this past season and like Buffalo have a talented young quarterback. The Jets and Lions are the most hyped up-and-coming teams in the league, with aspirations of deep playoff runs.
And yet … it was not only the Falcons but the Falcons without hearing everyone’s best pitch or dragging the deal out. The recruiting pitch from Fontenot, Smith and team owner Arthur Blank was enough to close this early.
Campbell told reporter Tiffany Blackmon that he felt the Falcons roster had improved so much that the team will “surprise some people this season.”
Indeed, Atlanta has signed 11 free agents already this year, including defensive tackle David Onyemata, linebackers Kaden Elliss and Tae Davis, and Jessie Bates III and Mike Hughes for the secondary. They join a returning group that includes Grady Jarrett, Lorenzo Carter, Ta’Quon Graham and others.
And they still are sitting on the No. 8 pick in next month’s NFL Draft.
Atlanta has already named second-year quarterback Desmond Ridder the starter despite having played just four games as a rookie out of the University of Cincinnati. The Falcons don’t see the need to enter the Lamar Jackson frenzy. They are looking to win. Now.
“We have a lot of belief in [Ridder], and we have a lot of belief in our team, our coaches and how we're going to develop people here and how we're going to play,” Fontenot said this week. “Teams win games, not individuals.”
The hype for next season is about the Jets winning games and the Lions winning games and the Jaguars winning games and Buffalo continuing to win games.
Big Calais Campbell surveyed all of that and chose Atlanta for one of his precious final seasons, if not his last.
It assures nothing, but in a league where everyone has an opinion, this one speaks louder than most.
The Falcons are coming, or so says CC’s actions, not just his words.