NFC South Notes: Campbell, Maye, Sanders

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell has accomplished a great deal in his NFL career, though he has never won a Super Bowl ring. So it came as something of a surprise when the six-time Pro Bowler, who is entering his age-37 season, agreed to sign with the Falcons in March after the Ravens made him a cap casualty. After all, Atlanta has not made the playoffs since 2018 and will be starting Desmond Ridder — a 2022 third-round choice who made just four starts in his rookie campaign — at quarterback.

Still, when this offseason arrived, the Falcons had free agency money to spend for the first time in the Terry Fontenot/Arthur Smith era, and they have been especially aggressive in bolstering their defense. Jessie Bates, Mike Hughes, Kaden Elliss, and David Onyemata were signed, and as Mike Rothstein of ESPN.com writes, adding those talents and a player like Campbell supports the message that Fontenot and Smith want to convey: that Atlanta is ready to compete and is a prime destination for high-end talent.

Campbell acknowledged that the uncertainty of the NFC South played a role in his decision (Twitter link via Rothstein), and he believes that the Falcons will indeed contend for a playoff spot in 2023. He spoke glowingly of his meetings with Smith, Fontenot, and new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, and he also watched tape of Ridder. All of that turned the Falcons from a team that was not on Campbell’s radar into the team for which he eschewed an extended free agency courtship.

Now for more from the NFC South, starting with several more items on Campbell and the Falcons:

  • Campbell said that more teams were interested in his services in 2023 than during his free agency stay in 2022, which ultimately concluded with a new deal with Baltimore. He also said he was “close” to signing with another club this year before agreeing to terms with the Falcons, though that mystery team did not make him feel the same way Atlanta did. In addition to his meetings with the Jaguars and Falcons, he had visits with the Jets and Bills on the docket, and he told CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson during an episode of The Crew┬ápodcast that Aaron Rodgers — who is expected to join the Jets in the near future — texted him and implored him to sign with Gang Green (Twitter link via Ari Meirov of The33rdTeam.com).
  • As Campbell explained in the above-referenced podcast, the Jets tried to get a deal done with him even before his would-be visit with New York, so perhaps they were the team that he nearly picked over the Falcons. And, per Rothstein, another factor that worked in the Falcons’ favor is that Atlanta plans to use him as a “true D-end,” meaning that he will line up on the edge on first and second downs.
  • Saints safety Marcus Maye was arrested in September on a charge of aggravated assault with a firearm. As Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk wrote last month, those charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. As most NFL fans know by now, the absence of criminal charges does not mean that a player will avoid league punishment, but since the time of Williams’ report, nothing has emerged on that front.
  • Running back Miles Sanders signed a four-year, $25MM contract with the Panthers in March, a deal that features $13MM in guaranteed money. Sanders indicated that the presence of Duce Staley, whom Carolina recently hired as its assistant head coach & running backs coach, was a big reason for his decision to join the Panthers (Twitter link via ESPN’s David Newton). Sanders spent the first four years of his career (2019-22) with the Eagles, and Staley was Philadelphia’s assistant head coach and running backs coach for the first two of those seasons.
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