After you sign the contract and do the press conference, make the whole media circuit and meet everyone there in Atlanta, the real task begins and that’s finding a place to settle down and call home.
That experience has actually been a lot more than I even thought it would entail, and a lot more challenging than I anticipated.
It’s been challenging because my oldest son is still in school, so I can’t uproot him. He has to go to school Monday through Friday, so I’ve been bouncing back and forth between St. Louis and Atlanta.
I had been to Atlanta, but only to visit family members, so I never really explored the city. It’s completely different when you’re visiting people for a getaway weekend than to actually be relocating and calling it home. We went to a couple of restaurants here and there. But as far as going on the interstate, or into certain neighborhoods, I’d never done that. So I’ve been getting lost and trying to find my way back around town.
I talked to Matt Ryan about where he lives and what he likes about it and I bounced a few things off Coach Smith as well to get his feedback and find out what kind of schedule he runs and the way things operate. I figured I’d talk to the two leaders of the team and go from there.
I also had a chance to briefly meet Julio Jones and I’ve known Roddy White over the years, being in the NFL and crossing paths throughout the years, but I haven’t had a chance to meet all of my teammates yet. I did attend our first team meeting a few weeks back and there was a lot of introduction and a lot of shaking new hands.
But every few days, I have to come back to St. Louis and do some more packing up of the house. So constantly being pulled between two states, I haven’t had that quality time for me to get to know those guys. But we’ll have time, coming up with OTAs and mini-camp to spend together and get to know those guys as we get ready for training camp.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
Being in St. Louis while not being a member of the Rams for the first time has been strange.
I always knew that this day would come, that one day, I would retire or play for another team. But it has been challenging to hear people talk about the organization that I’d been a part of for nine years.
There are young players that I consider little brothers, and I have a vested interest in them having successful careers for themselves, but I’m not a part of that now. That’s been an adjustment. Although a business decision has been made, that doesn’t take away from me wanting the best for them or even the friendships that we had.
There are so many guys — Sam Bradford, Chris Long, Daryl Richardson, William Hayes, the list goes on — that I keep in contact with there. We talk, but we don’t necessarily talk football. Now our conversations are about overall life. Sam has become a traveler now, so we talk about destinations, families and our personal lives more.
A lot of my conversations with him have been about transition of leadership. That role is being fully handed over to him now that I’m out of the locker room. Through those conversations, I think maybe we have a closer relationship as friends than ever. I will continue to watch and follow those guys and come Week 2, I’ll have to battle them.
PRIDE OF THE FALCONS
Despite all the trust and loyalty and love that I’ve gained in St. Louis, Atlanta doesn’t want to hear about what I’ve done in the past. They want to see what I’m going to do now, and how I’m going to help impact them and get them over the top. They’re not expecting me to just come in and be a guy. They want me to be who they heard and read about for all these years.
When you go to a team with such high expectations, you find you have higher expectations of yourself. It’s almost this feeling like you have to prove yourself all over again to a whole new fan base.
The one thing about the NFL is that though it is one entity, the 32 teams all operate very differently. Arthur Blank, the owner of the Falcons, has done a great job of building the franchise up. The way that the people there on the staff have treated me is all first class. The day I decided to sign with the Falcons back in March during free agency, I was welcomed to have lunch with Mr. Blank and that really hit home with me. It really made me feel welcome from the get go.
For him to come out and do that spoke volumes to me about who he is as a person, and how close he is with the building of this team. You can tell he grows to know all of his players on a very personal level. He tends to look at us as a part of his family, and he wants the best for all of us.
Finding out how much of a family man Mr. Blank is just made me more impressed with who he is. He values a lot of the same things that I value in my own personal life, especially being close with family. He makes it clear that it’s not all about football. It’s very weird to have a boss on the big day of a free agent signing not want to talk football, but instead want to learn about me and my family.
He wanted to hear about my upbringing, and he wanted to hear about my kids and what’s going on currently in my life. He’d heard a ton about my travels, so a great portion of the lunch was spent giving him a brief overview of who I am, and how I’ve come to be who I am as a person and as a player.
From there, we talked about going forward in the future and continuing this kind of relationship and continuing to help me empower communities in Atlanta. He’s heard about all the stuff we’ve done through my foundation, and was very impressed with that. He wants to help me bring that to the Atlanta area.
Anytime you go to a place and feel welcome, you never want to leave. It definitely makes me feel that I’ve made a great decision for me personally going on in my career. Hopefully, I can continue the success I’ve had individually and combine that with team success, which is exactly what I was looking for.