The free-agent defensive end Thursday signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract with Atlanta. Umenyiora won two Super Bowl championships in his 10 years with the New York Giants. He said the Falcons may have the most talent of any team he has seen but may have needed more Super Bowl experience.
“A lot of times, being able to get to that game or win that game is not even about the coaches or the organization,” Umenyiora said. “This team is the most talented team I’ve seen in my life, probably. But it’s not going to be about coaching. It’s going to be about what the players are able to do, and you need that veteran leadership. You need guys who have been in those games and can tell you about exactly what happened.”
The Falcons made the playoffs four of the last five years, but their first-round win over Seattle this year was the team’s only postseason win in that span. Umenyiora said as soon as he reached an agreement with Atlanta on Wednesday he felt “an immediate sense of responsibility” to share his postseason experience to help the Falcons reach the Super Bowl.
“I do bring the fact that I’ve won some Super Bowls and I know exactly what it took to get there,” he said.
Umenyiora, 31, insisted “it’s not a stretch” to say the Falcons are the most talented team he has seen.
He mentioned quarterback Matt Ryan, tight end Tony Gonzalez, newly signed running back Steve Jackson and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones as other talented veteran leaders. He said he also was impressed the team re-signed offensive tackle Sam Baker and safety William Moore.
“I feel like I’m a part of that,” he said. “There are a lot of tremendous players here, tremendous veteran leadership on this football team already. We’re all going to get together and somehow find a way to help this team get this done.”
Umenyiora’s production declined in recent years. He had only six sacks for the Giants in 2012, when he started only four of 16 games. He had 55 tackles, five for losses, and one forced fumble.
He had a career-high 14½ sacks in 2005, when he was a first-team All-Pro selection. He has reached double figures in sacks only one of the last four years — 11½ in 2010.
With New York, Umenyiora was part of a rotation at defensive end with Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
“Obviously they had some very good football players there with Jason coming in and Justin Tuck being who he is,” he said. “Obviously, I wasn’t able to play as much as I would have liked. There’s just no way you can put all of us on the field at the same time.
“So you look at that statistically, yes that definitely did play a role. You are only going to be able to produce as much as you’re out there on the football field. I wasn’t able to get out there on the football field as much as I had been accustomed to. ... To say that it’s ideal for me, it wasn’t. Obviously, I’m a guy with tremendous pride and I would like to be on the football field more, but I understood the situation.”
Playing time for Umenyiora shouldn’t be a problem with the Falcons, who released veteran defensive end John Abraham on March 1. Abraham led the team with 10 sacks last season. Defensive end Kroy Biermann was second on the Falcons with only 4½ sacks.
Umenyiora said his limited playing time the last two seasons in New York “was just setting me up for this situation here.”
“I feel like I can really come in here and help this team,” he 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 downs. So every disappointment is a blessing. This is definitely a blessing for me and I’m thankful to come over here and hopefully help this team win.”
Umenyiora said he had interest from other teams but made no other visits after talking with Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff. A big attraction for Umenyiora is Atlanta has been his offseason home for 10 years.
He said his 5-year-old son, Tijani, already is a Falcons fan “as strange as that may sound.”
“He loves Roddy and Julio and Matt Ryan and all of them,” Umenyiora said, adding “It was weird having a son who is a Falcons fan.”
Now it won’t seem so weird as Umenyiora finally joins his son’s hometown team.
“You just don’t get that opportunity very often to leave a good situation and come to a great situation,” he said. “This is where I live. This is home to me and where I plan on living the rest of my life.
“It’s a team I feel needs or could use a player like myself. To step into this situation, I wouldn’t even allow myself to dream this big when I was thinking of where I would land in free agency. I wouldn’t even allow myself to think of this because to me it was almost too good to be true.”