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Question of the Week: What piqued interest most from Annual League Meeting?

The 2024 owners' meetings wrapped in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday and served as a slight preview for the upcoming Falcons season.

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. — The 2024 Annual League Meeting wrapped in Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday and served as a slight preview for the upcoming Atlanta Falcons season.

Multiple topics were addressed with team owner Arthur Blank, general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Raheem Morris, such as the offseason quarterback acquisition. And then were more NFL-wide discussions and decisions that took place, including 12 procedural changes for the upcoming schedule.

So, now that all is said and done down there in the Sunshine State, the latest Question of the Week comes into play: What piqued interest most? The Falcons editorial staff of Tori McElhaney, Terrin Waack and Amna Subhan answer.


McELHANEY: I will be honest, I did not think one of my main takeaways from Falcons-related conversations at league meetings would have anything to do with Calais Campbell. I thought I would gravitate toward any of the moves the Falcons have actually made to this point, not the one they haven't.

But here I sit, writing about Campbell.

I guess because the topic of Campbell potentially re-signing with the Falcons hadn't crossed my mind in a long time. He could sign with any team at any time now that the new league year is here. I didn't think the chance of him returning to the Falcons was very high, not with a new staff around and his former defensive coordinator, Ryan Nielsen, going to the Jaguars, an organization very close to Campbell's heart. However, my interest was piqued when I heard the way Falcons head coach Raheem Morris talked about Campbell at league meetings Tuesday.

As I wrote in my first (of many) league meeting reports, Morris said he and Campbell have spoken. Though Morris wanted to keep much of the conversation private, he was willing to share he has played his hand with Campbell. Morris said there's a vision -- and by proxy, a future -- for Campbell in Atlanta. If Campbell wants it, it seems there's at least interest from the head coach that he'd like to have him back.

And with the Falcons in need of pass-rush reinforcements? It makes sense to keep a presence like Campbell around.

"I look forward to getting a chance to sit in front of (Campbell) because he's as impressive as it get when it comes to football character," Morris said. "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."

WAACK: The quarterback conversation is not over, even though the Falcons got their guy in Kirk Cousins. The perk of signing a veteran as QB1 is the increased possibility of a win-now outcome. But Cousins will be 36 years old when his 13th season in the league begins. His contract is for four years – not forever. So, the Falcons need to consider their long-term future now that their immediate future is handled.

Insert the 2024 NFL Draft. The Falcons have the No. 8 overall pick. Because they have Cousins, the desire to trade up lessens. That basically nixes the chances of getting top prospects like Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels. But the second wave of options should be available to the Falcons. That includes J.J. McCarthy, Bo Nix and Michael Penix Jr.

If the Falcons did draft one of those latter players – or even another option later on – the pressure to be game ready as a rookie is eliminated. He can develop under Cousins, who was literally just praised in Orlando because of "the mindset, the mentality, the leadership; all those areas." And he can be the future of the franchise – ideally.

It's still a risk, though. The Falcons essentially did this in 2022 when they brought in Desmond Ridder, albeit he was a third-round selection. He was supposed to learn and grow under Marcus Mariota but ultimately replaced Mariota as the starter toward the end of his rookie year and then maintained that role as Year 2 began. Well, Ridder's sophomore season didn't go as planned, being replaced by Taylor Heinicke in Week 9 and ultimately getting traded to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.

That's why the path of drafting a quarterback this season is so interesting. It could set the Falcons up well for their post-Cousins era – think Jordan Love under Aaron Rodgers with the Green Bay Packers – or it could put the Falcons back in a similar situation all over again. Only time will tell.

SUBHAN: The NFL Competition Committee also convened in Orlando and made a striking decision to reform kickoff returns.

That's what piqued my interest the most and got me very excited for the upcoming season. Kickoff has become mostly routine, ending almost always in a fair catch. Now, that's essentially taken out of the equation. Just about everything has changed, except for returners lining up at the 35-yard line.

A similar format was tested out in the XFL spring league. Here's an idea at what it could look like:

"Look, that's a play that's really been out of the game," Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot said. "Last year, it was kind of an off play, and now you're adding that play, so it's critical to make sure you have that right plan."

While he wouldn't get into the details, Fontenot noted special teams coordinator Marquice Williams does have a plan to get the most out of the new rule.

The Falcons saw their main 2023 kick returner, Cordarrelle Patterson, sign elsewhere as a free agent Tuesday, but Atlanta will get back returner Avery Williams, who spent last season on injured reserve. In the two previous seasons, Williams returned 39 kicks for 803 yards. The Falcons also added Ray-Ray McCloud this offseason, and he has returned 108 kickoffs in his six-year career for 2,438 yards.

So, the Falcons will have plenty to play and tinker with on special teams heading into next season.

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