clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Calais Campbell clarifies role on Falcons defense, why he chose Atlanta

The veteran defensive lineman is coming in with high expectations.

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Calais Campbell has been the greatest cheerleader the Atlanta Falcons could ask for since signing with the team. In the short time since he joined up, he’s directed outsized praise to this franchise, this front office, this coaching staff, and even quarterback Desmond Ridder. Given Campbell’s reputation as a locker room leader and one of the longest-tenured and most respected defensive veterans in the NFL, it’s hard to take those words lightly.

In an interview with longtime NFL insider Josina Anderson on her podcast, The Crew, Campbell revealed more about his decision to sign with the Falcons, where he expects to play in Atlanta, and what the team did to sell him on Ridder as the starting quarterback. It’s worth listening to the whole thing—fire it up while you’re walking or grilling or driving around today—but here are some highlights.

On joining Atlanta

Longtime Cowboys beat writer Clarence Hill Jr. asked Campbell what drew him to Atlanta. Campbell said from the beginning, the team’s brass made him “feel the love,” from a 20 minute conversation with Arthur Smith where he laid out his vision to an in-person visit where he made “natural connections.” He mentioned he had the Dolphins, Eagles, and Jets all made offers, with New York’s being almost equal and Aaron Rodgers texting him to talk about winning a Super Bowl together with the Jets.

“I just had a gut feeling that Atlanta was a special place, and the value that I could bring would be most effective there,” Campbell said.

Campbell mentioned Grady Jarrett and the signing of David Onyemata as factors, as well as Jessie Bates, knowing he’d get to play with players he clearly likes and respects. He also is clearly high on the state of the roster—higher than the vast majority of Falcons fans, I’d wager—because he said with a straight face that the Falcons could win 13 games in 2023. The incredulous response Campbell got to that statement on the podcast is worth seeing for yourself, but it’s very clear that he has bought in to the vision Smith and Fontenot are selling.

On playing EDGE

Part of the value he felt he could bring concerned where he’d play, and perhaps how much, which helped tip the scales to Atlanta.

Atlanta’s going to allow Campbell a larger role, by the sound of it. He said he’s only played true defensive end three times in his 15 year career, and they’re going to allow him to play more off the edge than he might have in other locations. Because he said he loved those three years in Jacksonville best, it was enticing for him to have more opportunities to play that role.

It’s worth noting that it was a while ago, but Campbell was extremely effective in his early 30s as a pass rusher for Jacksonville, piling up 14.5, 10.5, and 6.5 sacks over that three year span. If he believes he can use his power effectively as a pass rusher for Atlanta, that’s appealing for him (because he can pile up sacks and make splash plays) and for the Falcons (who haven’t had a great pass rush in a long, long time).

That clues us in that one of the reasons the Falcons haven’t added more veterans to the group is that Campbell will have a significant role at EDGE, even if they still draft someone to contribute over the long haul. Even at his age, Campbell’s a major addition to that group, and adds quite a bit of punch to a rotation likely to heavily feature Arnold Ebiketie, Lorenzo Carter, and Bud Dupree, as well.

On Ridder

It’s worth repeating that Campbell watched tape with the Falcons’ brass on Ridder ahead of signing. The Falcons have mostly kept their positive comments about the young quarterback to his intangibles and makeup rather than making it clear that he has high-end talent, but Campbell has no compunctions about conjuring up a bright future for the second-year quarterback.

“He made a lot of really good throws,” said Campbell, who revealed he watched tape on Ridder with Arthur Smith and Terry Fontenot. “They made me a believer that he has the tools to develop and be a really good player.”

Ultimately I’m not sure Ridder was a huge factor in Campbell’s signing—that’d be the money, the opportunities and help on defense, etc.—but it’s still nice to hear that a key free agent was sold on him after the team went out of their way to showcase why they believe in Ridder.

Campbell’s bold predictions about the team’s success may or may not come true, but he seems to believe them and seems to be fully bought in to what Atlanta is trying to do. It remains refreshing that a player who has been around this long and had options chose the Falcons for reasons other than money—even though I’m certain the money was a major factor—and I’d love for him to be right about his starry-eyed comments to this point.