The Falcons' newest free agent, Osi Umenyiora, spent most of Thursday morning at the team facility signing his new contract to play for the Falcons and conducting a press conference with local media. One of the things he's looking forward to most in his day as a new Falcon is going to pick up his son from school.
His son, a huge Falcons fan, was asleep Wednesday night when news broke of Umenyiora's signing, but the former New York Giant knows his son will be so excited his dad now plays for his favorite team and he can't wait to talk to him about it.
Umenyiora has lived in Atlanta during the offseason for the past 10 years and he's called Atlanta home for 14 years. For Umenyiora, who has two Super Bowl rings, being able to come to Atlanta to play was the perfect situation and on Thursday he said he didn't even want to visit other teams during his free agency tour because Atlanta was the destination he wanted. He didn't want to allow himself to dream of coming to play for Atlanta, but now that it's happened, he's happy to be able to live and play in the same place and for a franchise that is winning.
"To be able to come to a team like this, obviously a great football team (and) a great city, it was just a blessing," Umenyiora said.
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound defensive end said leaving New York was hard, but he felt it was the right time for him. In the last few seasons he hasn't played as much as he would have liked, but he felt that set up things to be even better for him as he comes to Atlanta, even though he's stepping in for departed defensive end John Abraham, a player he called one of his favorites.
"It was setting up for this situation here, a situation where I feel like I can really help this team," Umenyiora said. "I have a lot less wear and tear on my body over the last two years than I normally would have if I would have been playing all those (extra) downs. Every disappointment is a blessing and it's definitely a blessing for me and I'm thankful to come over here and help this team win."
PHOTOS: See Osi Umenyiora in game action
Atlanta is also a homecoming of sorts in another way for Umenyiora. He reunites with Tim Lewis, Atlanta's secondary coach. While Lewis was the defensive coordinator of the Giants from 2004-2006, Umenyiora had one of his best seasons as a professional, recording 14.5 sacks, a career high, in 2005. Umenyiora said Lewis ran a multiple-scheme defense, not unlike what the Steelers run.
That diversity, Umenyiora thinks, will help him prepare for doing a variety of things in Mike Nolan's defense here in Atlanta. Although he played primarily at right end in New York, he anticipates playing on the left side in Atlanta and he will spend a great deal of time this offseason honing his proficiency on that end.
Umenyiora's sentiments weren't far from the things Steven Jackson, the Falcons' other free agent signing this offseason, said earlier this month, when it came to making a decision to join the Falcons. Umenyiora said he felt the Falcons had more talent than he'd seen before and he wanted to be a part of it, but once he met with team officials, he knew without a doubt he was making the right decision.
"I pride myself on being able to judge character," Umenyiora said. "When I met them, immediately, the way they talk and they look you in your eyes as you talk. They tell you exactly what they expect out of you and what they're looking for out of this franchise. For me, I was just thrilled with the way they were and I'm excited to be a part of it."
In addition to his Super Bowl and playoff experience, Umenyiora brings 10 seasons of NFL experience to a locker room that got younger during the offseason. He said he'll do whatever he has to do to mentor any willing player and he's excited about the opportunity to be part of the leadership of the Falcons players.
"You need that veteran leadership," he said. "You need guys who have been in those big games and can tell you what will happen. The coaches can't be out there on the field with you. They can only call the plays and inspire you before the game, but during the game it's the players themselves who have to take over and show the younger guys how this is done. I feel like I'm part of that. There are other tremendous players here, tremendous veteran leadership, on this football team already. We'll find a way to get this done."