You would expect a player who just landed with a new team to say nice things about that team. Rare indeed is the free agent who signs for a few million dollars, takes the podium, and says “they offered me the most money, but honestly the coach has terrible breath, this roster is garbage, and I’m just here for a year, let’s ride.”
In light of that, it’s not surprising that Calais Campbell had glowing words for the Atlanta Falcons. What’s a little noteworthy about them is that Campbell went above and beyond the “I’m excited to be here, they were really welcoming” boilerplate comments you’d expect to see from a new addition. He made it clear that Terry Fontenot, Arthur Smith, and Arthur Blank sold him on a vision for the football team, one that has him convinced Atlanta’s set to make a playoff run, and perhaps even a deep playoff run.
We know that Campbell chose the Falcons over a handful of other teams interested in him, which included the contending Bills and Jaguars, so it at least makes you sit up and rub your eyes a little when he says something like this.
#Falcons Calais Campbell on Terry Fontenot: The conversations were huge. Fontenot convinced me. This team is in a win-now mentality.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 3, 2023
#Falcons Calais Campbell: Being totally honest, it was close. A lot of teams made really strong offers. I was close to signing elsewhere. But it didn't feel right. I went with my gut and signed in Atlanta. This team is young and hungry.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 3, 2023
He had significant praise for Arthur Smith, Ryan Nielsen, and new signing Jessie Bates, who might have helped tip the scales on a signing. Campbell also invoked the postseason, and even got exuberant enough to say the team could be playing in “late in January and potentially February.”
#Falcons Calais Campbell: A lot of teams sent offers over and made me feel wanted. But I chose Atlanta. I like the underdog mentality here. This team definitely plays in a wide open division. If Ridder continues to improve, there's no reason this team can't make the playoffs.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 3, 2023
Campbell also may have been signed with a particular player’s role in mind, a player Falcons fans know all too well. It makes sense that Ryan Nielsen would want to have a ready-made Cameron Jordan replacement on his roster after working with the New Orleans defensive lineman for many years.
#Falcons Calais Campbell: My role will be true defensive end on first and second down. Similar to a "Cam Jordan" role. I don't expect to play more than 60% of snaps, but just being a veteran leader. Being a force on the DL.— Kevin Knight (@FalcoholicKevin) April 3, 2023
From all of this, Campbell clearly believes he’s headed to a team that’s set to drastically improve, one where he can play a major role on a re-tooled defensive line and serve as a much-needed veteran leader. He’s basing that on the state of the roster, yes, but also his conversations with the team’s brass about where the Falcons are headed. Someone who has been around as long as Campbell and has consistently been a part of playoff teams presumably is not that easy to convince that you have a stellar plan.
How much stock should we put in this? Campbell is naturally given to hyperbole when hyping up his team and teammates, and no doubt he wants to give a young team a confidence boost. At the same time, Campbell has also been a part of some really good teams like the 2008 Arizona Super Bowl squad, the 13-3 2015 Cardinals team that lost in the NFC Conference Championship, the surprise 2017 Jaguars team that made it to the AFC Conference Championship, and the excellent 2020 Ravens squad. He knows what a winning football team looks like, and he chose the Falcons over the Ravens, his former Jaguars squad, and reportedly the Bills and Jets, among other suitors. The money probably helped—Campbell got a nice one-year deal—but it doesn’t seem like money alone was the motivation. To some degree, Campbell clearly believes this is a team on the rise, and free agency and his instincts both agree on that point.
Campbell’s comments and outlook on the Falcons guarantees little, but the fact that a team that hasn’t had a winning season in five years was able to coax a player of his caliber to Atlanta and have him excited about their 2023 fortunes is at least a welcome sign.