Outside of the NFC South, the signing of free agent defensive end Adrian Clayborn by the Atlanta Falcons in March probably didn’t turn many heads. A former first-round draft pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided not to re-sign their once prized pass rusher after his rookie contract was done.
The Falcons were in need of defensive line help, especially pass rushers. Atlanta’s defense had 22 sacks last year. To put that in perspective, Kansas City’s Justin Houston led the league with 22 sacks by himself last year. Only one team had fewer sacks than the Falcons in 2014. The Cincinnati Bengals had 20.
The Falcons are banking on Clayborn to improve those numbers. Clayborn is banking on that as well.
The one-year deal allows both parties to feel each other out and if Clayborn lives up to expectations, it could reap rewards for him down the line. Not many would doubt he has the ability. But Clayborn must remain healthy, something that has been an issue during his tenure in the NFL.
Known for his relentless effort, the former No. 11 overall pick led the Buccaneers in 2011 with 7.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. He started all 16 games that season. The following season Clayborn suffered a knee injury and played in just three games.
In 2013, a healthy Clayborn again played in all 16 games. He had six sacks to go with a career-high 64 tackles. His 19 tackles for losses ranked fourth in the league and his 14.5 run stuffs tied with former teammate Lavonte David and J.J. Watt for tops in the league. But last year, Clayborn was limited to just one game before his season ended with a triceps injury.
If history repeats itself, Clayborn should have a very solid year in 2015.
“I just want to come in and help the Falcons get back to playing good defense,” Clayborn said in an AtlantaFalcons.com article. “I’ve just been out for a year, and last year was supposed to be my best year of my career, so I’m just looking to get back on track, and I’m very hungry to get back at it.”
Clayborn has support within the organization. Falcons assistant head coach Raheem Morris was Clayborn’s head coach when Tampa Bay drafted him in 2011. He believed in Clayborn then and believes in him now.
“When we came back here and we talked about free agents, we talked about bringing in tough, competitive guys and when you looked at the free agent list, Adrian just jumped off the list, in my opinion,’’ Morris said in an ESPN.com article.
“Personally, that was my No. 1 guy. When we drafted him in Tampa, that was one of the major things I loved about him: tough, competitive. He brings the nasty demeanor and the attitude, the go-get-it-type guy you want. He fits (head coach Dan Quinn’s) type of attitude. He fit Bryan Cox’s attitude.’’
For the Buccaneers, letting Clayborn walk was a business decision. Under the new regime of coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht, Clayborn simply had not shown enough to warrant an extension. While the team was in need of help at defensive end, it decided to go in another direction.
Soft-spoken off the field, a surely-motivated Clayborn will now get a chance to face his former team twice a year. The first meeting won’t be until Nov. 1. By then, the Falcons should know what they have in Clayborn.
“I think when you play hard and just get after the quarterback you help the offense, and we’ll be fine,” he said. “Because we are good players. It just takes the right gel and takes the right coaching. We’ll be great.”