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Notes on a (hypothetical) Calais Campbell return

Last week, we took a deep dive into the possibility of an A.J. Terrell extension. This week, we dissect the options of Calais Campbell returning to the Falcons if he foregoes retirement. 

DISCLAIMER: The statements and opinions regarding players and/or potential future players in the article below are those of the editorial staff and are not of the Atlanta Falcons' football personnel unless noted in a direct quote.

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Real talk: This entire article could be a moot point if Calais Campbell retires tomorrow. All of this work and research could be for not with a simple social-media post from the veteran defensive end. However, that hypothetical announcement has not come. Therefore, it leaves the door open for another deep dive of a hypothetical Falcons roster scenario.

Last week, we dove into the possibility of an A.J. Terrell extension. The cornerback will be playing on his fifth-year option in 2024. Would the Falcons like to lock him up long-term? Well, that was the hypothetical situation we looked into last week. This week, it's Campbell's turn.

After spending the 2023 season with the Falcons on a one-year deal, Campbell is a free agent. If he decided to play in 2024, it would be his 17th season in the league after being drafted back in 2008.

Over the course of his career, Campbell has done pretty much anything and everything a player would hope to do and accomplish in a professional tenure. He has been a Pro Bowl selection six times, named to an AP All-Pro First Team, won the Walter Payton Man of the Year award, notched more than 100 sacks in his career and much more. At this point, Campbell isn't playing to prove anything. He'd be playing simply because he loves the game. And let's be honest, too, even at 37 years old in 2023, he was still disruptive.

Campbell finished his lone year in Atlanta having started all 17 games, notching 17 quarterback hits and 6.5 sacks. Those sacks by the way? They tied Bud Dupree for the most on the team last season, one that saw the Falcons double their team sack totals from 2022 to 2023.

And that's just Campbell's importance to the team statistically. We don't even have to get into what he meant to the locker room, but we will, because in Atlanta, that was just as important. Campbell was a figurehead in the Falcons' 2023 locker room. In the good moments and the not-so-good moments, players young and old looked to Campbell for advice. It wasn't uncommon for Campbell to dole out life advice to younger players as simply as he would in-game advice.

For Zach Harrison, a rookie at the time, Campbell was instrumental in his assimilation into the professional ranks. For Grady Jarrett, in his ninth pro season in 2023, Campbell provided something Jarrett hadn't had in Atlanta in a very long time: a veteran presence outside of himself to lean on. And when Jarrett went down with a season-ending knee injury? Campbell -- along with Jessie Bates III in the secondary -- stepped in to fill the leadership void left in Jarrett's wake.

That's what was. So, now we look into what is.


At this point in time, it's likely Campbell is still weighing his options. First, to retire or not to retire. Campbell will have just turned 38 years old when the 2024 season begins in September. For any player, let alone a defensive player lining up at the line of scrimmage play after play, that's a long time. But if Campbell wants to return for another go, he'd have opportunities waiting for him. And therein lies the other options he'd weigh.

Campbell has touched the organizations and communities of Arizona, Jacksonville, Baltimore and -- now -- Atlanta. There's sentimental value at each stop for Campbell. He was drafted by the Cardinals, spending a whopping nine seasons there. He spent three years in Jacksonville, where he was a Pro Bowl selection every single year, along with his All-Pro honors in 2017. He also spent three seasons in Baltimore and one in Atlanta, where he was chasing 100 sacks. He finally notched No. 100 in 2023 with Atlanta and now boasts 105.5 in his career.

All four stops means something to Campbell, and all four stops would likely have a difficult time telling Campbell no if he wanted to return. Heck, Ryan Nielsen is the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville now. Who's to say Campbell wouldn't want to return simply to work with him? It was Nielsen's coaching vigor and play vision that helped sell Campbell on Atlanta in the first place.

However, before we wrap up, someone else may want to have a crack at coaching Campbell. And that someone else may very well be Falcons head coach Raheem Morris.

As we found out at the Annual League Meeting two weeks ago, Morris and Campbell have spoken. Morris said he wouldn't disclose all of the things the two discussed in their conversation, wanting to leave majority of it to come from Campbell himself. Morris did share, though, he'd be more than happy to welcome Campbell back to Atlanta. It would seem, the door is open for that (hypothetical) return.

In their conversation, Morris laid out the vision he had for Campbell's extended time in Atlanta, if that was something he chose to do in 2024. Morris said he is hoping to have further conversations of similar nature with Campbell in the not-too-distant future.

"I look forward to getting a chance to sit in front of him because he's as impressive as it get when it comes to football character," Morris said in March. "He's had as impressive of a career as you can have. (There's) stuff that he still brings to the game -- to us -- moving forward, and I look forward to discussing that in detail with him at a later date."

At the current moment, the Falcons don't have much cap space with which to work. They need a little more than $12 million to sign their draft class. According to, they have $6.28 million in cap space right now. In essence, that means other contracts will need to be tweaked to give the Falcons more wiggle room. This is important, too, because it simultaneously means big-time signings will be tougher to come by in the near future. That could include a potential deal with Campbell, whose 2023 one-year deal was valued at $7 million. It doesn't mean it can't or won't happen; it just means work needs to be done to make room.

But if there's a way to make room for Campbell, especially if the Falcons do decide to take a top edge rusher in the 2024 NFL Draft, it may not be a bad idea for all the reasons listed above.

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