NFL NOTEBOOK: Umenyiora fitting in well with new Atlanta Falcons teammates; ex-Colts star Freeney accuses owners of colluding against free-agents

Osi Umenyiora, left, works out with his teammates during OTAs this week in Atlanta. Umenyiora, 31, won two Super Bowls with the Giants before signing with the Falcons.

Osi Umenyiora, left, works out with his teammates during OTAs this week in Atlanta. Umenyiora, 31, won two Super Bowls with the Giants before signing with the Falcons.

ATLANTA — It hasn’t taken Osi Umenyiora a long time to blend in with the Falcons.

“Osi fit in right away,” Falcons defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said after this week’s OTAs. “He has an outgoing personality. You can talk to him about just about anything. As each day goes by, I think he’s getting more and more comfortable.”

Umenyiora, 31, a two-time Super Bowl champion from his days with the New York Giants, is the Falcons’ major offseason pickup on defense. He signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract March 27 and will be counted on to replace John Abraham, who was not re-signed and is still out of work and searching for a new team.

In Wednesday’s second OTA session, Umenyiora lined up at right and left end as the Falcons flashed in and out of 3-4 and 4-3 base alignments.

“It’s been awesome,” Umenyiora said. “The whole team has welcomed me with open arms. It’s just been a wonderful feeling coming out there with these guys. It’s a great football team.”

Abraham led the Falcons with 68.5 sacks over the past seven seasons. He had double-digit sacks in four seasons, including 10 last season.

Umenyiora played in 16 games (four starts) with the Giants last season and had 55 tackles, six sacks, five tackles for loss and one forced fumble. Umenyiora was named to the Pro Bowl in 2005 and 2007.

Umenyiora has 75 career sacks and 31 forced fumbles in 129 games over 10 seasons. His 75 sacks rank ninth in the NFL among active players.

“John Abraham was a hell of a player, and Osi has kind of come in to fill that role,” Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. “But every player is different and to say who’s better or not, some of it has to do with how that person fits in with the guys around him. Sometimes it’s a little better chemistry-wise.”

Umenyiora is adjusting quickly to the Falcons’ scheme, which may require him to drop into coverage periodically.

“It’s different, but the coaches do a great job of explaining everything to me,” Umenyiora said. “Defense is really defense. As long as you get that down pat and understand what it is that they are asking of you.”

Umenyiora, an earlier riser who normally is one of the first players in the building, has been careful about how he plans to take on a leadership role with his new team.

“They have veteran guys here, and the coaching staff is a veteran coaching staff,” Umenyiora said. “For me, I just want to lead by example for now and let the guys get to know me, better and better, then I’ll become more vocal. For now, I’m just out here doing my job and whatever the coaches ask me to do. The leadership aspect will take place later on.”

Umenyiora, 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, appears to be rejuvenated by signing with the Falcons.

“This is a new chapter in my life, and I’m so happy to be here,” he said. “I am happy to be with this winning franchise, and I’m going to do everything I can to help them keep winning.”

Umenyiora isn’t putting too much stock in the OTAs, which are non-contact practices basically used to install and perfect the defense and offensive schemes. Once the season starts, he wants to gauge the intensity in practice.

“That will be a more telling sign of how things are going to go,” Umenyiora said.

He is using the offseason wisely and putting in extra time to learn the schemes.

“At the end of the day, it’s called different things, and all you have to do is make that transition in your brain from calling it one thing to calling it another,” Umenyiora said.

Umenyiora hopes to revive his career with the Falcons after being a rotational player with the Giants over the past two seasons.

“These guys didn’t bring me in here off of what I did last year in New York,” Umenyiora said. “They are bringing me in because of what they think I can do for them.

“For me, I have to start all over again and show them exactly what I’m capable of. Nobody cares what I did for the New York Giants. It’s what can I do for the Atlanta Falcons, and they expect big things from me. I expect even bigger things from myself.”


SAN DIEGO — San Diego Chargers linebacker Dwight Freeney accused NFL owners of collusion this week, saying that free agency was slower than usual this year.

“I basically think the owners got together and decided not to spend the cash on free agents,” Freeney told CBSSports.com. “I definitely think that’s part of it. I think the owners made a pact. There’s only 32 of them and none of them broke ranks. I think they all decided not to spend money.”

The NFLPA in April expressed concern about possible collusion through an e-mail from executive director DeMaurice Smith to player agents requesting that they report any improper dealings with teams.

The e-mail was attained from ESPN Dallas. It read: “We have heard reports of a concern that teams are working in concert to ‘peg,’ ‘rig’ or ‘set’ market prices on player contracts. If you believe or have information that the teams have been colluding during this free-agency period, you have a responsibility as an agent of the NFLPA to come forward and share that information with us.”

The e-mail also stated that the union believes some teams are inaccurately reporting that they have salary-cap problems related to signing veterans.

The NFL denied that owners are colluding.

“Player signings in 2013 have been characterized by robust spending and intense competition,” spokesperson Greg Aiello told CBS Sports. “Anyone seeing collusion in this market is seeing ghosts.”

Freeney, 33, has 107.5 sacks in his 11-year career. Despite that, he said he was surprised how long it took him to get another job after the Indianapolis Colts released him after the season.

He ended up getting a two-year, $8.75 million deal with the Chargers earlier this month.

“What you saw,” Freeney began, “were guys getting small deals. I haven’t seen anything like it. There was a lot of take-it-or-leave-it from teams. It was crazy. Even a guy like (Elvis) Dumervil didn’t make as much money as he should have. He’s in his prime.”

EX-RAVENS STAR LB LEWIS TO CLIMB MT. KILIMANJARO: Retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis announced that he plans to climb Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro.

“In one month, I will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to raise money and awareness for clean water projects in East Africa,” Lewis announced on his web site. “I am so FIRED UP for this adventure.”

Mt. Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest free-standing mountain at more than 19,000 feet high.

Lewis retired after the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl in February, wrapping up a sure-fire 17-year Hall of Fame career.

Now Lewis will face a new challenge in climbing a mountain that is more than 3 1/2 miles high.

NFL CLAIMS TROUBLED EX-LIONS WR YOUNG REFUSED HELP: The NFL reached out to troubled wide receiver Titus Young before his escalating off-the-field problems occurred.

Troy Vincent, the NFL’s director of player engagement, told Yahoo! Sports this week that someone close to Young called the league last year concerned about the mental well-being of the then-Detroit Lions wide receiver.

“Once we got the call, we sent someone out to meet with him,” Vincent said.

Young, 23, was arrested three times in one week earlier this month in California, including twice in one day. He has been in jail since May 11 in Orange County and faces up 10 years in prison on 11 counts of burglary, attempted burglary and assaulting officers. He could also be prosecuted on a DUI charge.

Vincent said the league tried several times to help Young.

“We were told he was not interested in support,” Vincent said. “We went to people very close to his center of influence, to reach out to see how we can support him. The response was of someone who is not open arms to being supported.”

Young was released by the Lions in February because of a lack of production and behavioral problems.

Young’s father told Detroit newspapers earlier this month that his son is mentally ill and needs help.

The Lions drafted Young in 2011.

NFL Phone pranksters face federal charges: Two pranksters who orchestrated a March phone call between two NFL general managers, recorded it and sold it to a third-party website, are facing federal charges, according to a Buffalo News report.

Joshua Barber and Nicholas Kaiser, both 20 and from Plymouth, Ma., must appear Tuesday before a U.S. magistrate in Buffalo to answer charges of “intentionally intercepting a wire communication and making a telephone call without disclosing their identity with the intent to annoy or harass the person at the called number,” the paper said.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in jail and a $500,000 fine.

In March, the pair prank-called then-Buffalo Bills GM Buddy Nix, claiming to be Tampa Bay Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik. When Nix answered, they immediately hung up.

Thinking the call was dropped, Nix called the number back. In the meantime, the pranksters, called Dominik pretending to be Nix. They then put the two GMs together on a conference call and recorded the conversation with another cell phone.

The unauthorized six-minute call was then sold to and posted on the website Deadspin, which published a detailed story about the prank along with the audio.

NFL DRAFT MOVED TO MAY: Commissioner Roger Goodell made a change recently in the NFL offseason calendar to move next year’s draft to May 15.

That will necessitate additional changes to what the NFL refers to as its “league year,” beginning with free agency. Rather than kicking off the signing period for unrestricted free agents in March, the league is proposing starting free agency at the end of that month, with the NFL Scouting Combine and other dates subject to change.