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Report: Falcons talking contract with impending free agent LB De’Vondre Campbell

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We don’t have a good feel for who the Falcons want to bring back just ye, but Campbell appears to be one of them.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The Falcons have a raft of free agents who will hit the open market in March, and with their cap space at the moment, chances are they’re only going to get a handful re-signed unless there are more cuts in the near future. It’s been difficult to figure out which players will be major priorities for the team, though Adrian Clayborn, Austin Hooper, Tyeler Davison and Younghoe Koo are names to watch.

The first concrete report of contract talks has come with probably the biggest name on the list besides Hooper, however. Per ESPN’s Vaughn McClure, the Falcons have had “preliminary talks” with Campbell’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus.

Let’s start with the obvious: The Falcons like Campbell. He was a surprise pick in the fourth round of the draft, with the team defying draft experts (put that term in quotations if you like) by selecting the hyper-talented but inconsistent linebacker out of Minnesota. Campbell became a starter in his rookie season and has rarely looked back, playing in 59 of 64 games since arriving in Atlanta, starting 54 of them, and piling up 363 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 18 tackles for loss, and 11 quarterback hits in four seasons.

Campbell has been a little bit of a lightning rod for the fanbase, a role he’s leaned into by smacking down fan criticism on Twitter. On the bright side, he’s a stellar blitzer when called upon, a physical player who is never afraid to go toe-to-toe with anyone, and is one of the team’s most technically sound and reliable tacklers. His 5.1% missed tackle rate in 2019 was the team’s second-lowest and was less than half of Deion Jones’, an acknowledged superstar. When he’s asked to rush the passer, play the run, or make a tackle, Campbell fares very well.

Jones is noted as a star because of his strengths making big plays and in coverage, and that’s not something Campbell is noted for. He was better in the former regard than ever before last year, turning it around after a slow first half to finish the year with 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 sacks. Coverage continues to be Campbell’s most glaring weakness, however, as he was behind only Foye Oluokun, Vic Beasley, and Kemal Ishmael in opposing completion percentage (82%), allowed the second-highest number of receiving yards behind Isaiah Oliver (462), and allowed the fifth-highest number of touchdowns. In contrast, Deion Jones allowed just 58.5% of passes thrown to players he was covering to be completed, and Campbell’s numbers were worse more or less across the board in 2019 than they were in 2018.

The question is whether the coverage issues outweigh the many things Campbell does well, and the fact that the Falcons are talking contract suggests that at least in Flowery Branch, they do not. If Campbell does return to Atlanta, hopefully he’ll continue to be a quality overall player and improve further against opposing tight ends, given how often he winds up having to cover them. I know the fanbase is divided on his value, but I’d welcome him back, even if I’d be a bit surprised if Atlanta delivers the best offer.

That’s partly a function of having Rosenhaus as an agent and partly an acknowledgement of both the team’s cap situation and Campbell’s value on the open market. Campbell, Joe Schobert, Cory Littleton, and Blake Martinez are all around age 26 or age 27 and coming off of strong years, and they’re sort of the crown jewels of this particular free agent class. There’s no way Campbell is going to settle for significantly less than he’s worth, and unless the Falcons are preparing for a bevy of cuts and/or aren’t going to prioritize Hooper, they may find themselves outbid. If they can’t get him back, it’ll likely be down to a competition between Foye Oluokun and a rookie draft pick for the starting job next to Debo.

We’ll see what happens, though, because these are preliminary talks and we have just under two months until free agency opens. Are you hoping Campbell returns?