If there's a free agent that's tailor-made for the Atlanta Falcons, it's James Sanders.
Sanders enters his seventh season in the NFL this year and at a relatively young 27, there's no reason to believe he doesn't still have more than enough left in the tank to be a major contributor.
He trained at the feet of New England Patriots stalwarts Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson, eventually taking over the starting job from Wilson in 2007.
The safety watched many safety prospects come and go through New England, but he always remained the steadiest of them all, despite being named a starter or not.
New England, long known for their enigmatic roster moves, let Sanders go last Monday. A few days later, he was with the Falcons. Sanders is a player Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff thought highly of and when the move came down, Dimitroff didn't waste time adding the seasoned veteran to a somewhat young safety unit.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick isn't known for emotive phrases and hyperbole. However, he's on record saying he'd gladly take a roster full of players like Sanders and his work ethic, toughness and teamwork. As everyone involved with the Falcons has come to learn over the last few days as they've studied up on their Sanders history, leadership is synonymous with him.
Being a leader among his teammates is a role he values. Even though the Falcons are his new team and only his second stop in the NFL, he's still going to do everything he can to show his new guys he's there for them.
"I just come in and work hard," Sanders said last week. "Lead by example, first of all. This team is new to me and I'm new to them. I'm just going to come in and work hard each and every day and show them that I'm here to help the team."
The Falcons wanted a player that could come in, learn quickly and be a calming influence on the rest of the secondary. He's not needed to start, incumbents Thomas DeCoud and William Moore have that locked down. Along with cornerback Kelvin Hayden, Sanders is the only free agent the Falcons brought in to join the team during the roster cut down period. You get the sense the two were hand selected by Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith for their ability to learn on the fly.
"It was nice to see them move around," Smith said on Monday after the two players' first practice with the team. "They're probably behind in terms of understanding what we're trying to get done. We've had a crash course over the last five days and we wanted them to get some reps and they were able to get some reps today. We're going to continue to indoctrinate them into our system and try to get them ready to go as quickly as possible."
Reports say the Kansas City Chiefs were among the teams chasing Sanders after his release. He didn't have the option of every team in the league desiring his services, but his reputation afforded him a few suitors and he chose to come to Atlanta.
It's a good match. Those in the know describe Sanders as a coach on the field, a player beloved by Belichick. When the also recently released former Pro Bowl safety Brandon Meriweather struggled from time to time in New England, Sanders filled in and helped keep things together.
Sanders is a pro's pro. He isn't a player that will fill the highlights with flashy plays, but what he will bring is a steady defense that isn't filled with mistakes. Backing up two players that are still growing up in the league and with the playmakers the Falcons have in the front seven, that's virtually a perfect fit.
Dimitroff's done it again.