- Vaughn McClure, ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter
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There is no doubt where veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora wants to be next season.
He owns a home in the Atlanta area. He feels an allegiance to his Falcons teammates. He has tremendous respect for general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith.
"I would love to stay, and I think I am," Umenyiora told ESPN.com. "But you really never know what's going to happen."
Umenyiora knows all about business decisions in the NFL -- and he understood them well before the Falcons released four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel.
Remember, Umenyiora was a game-changing player on two Super Bowl championship teams with the New York Giants, yet he and the Giants couldn't agree on financial terms -- or his desired role -- before parting ways after the 2012 season. He made two Pro Bowls in 10 seasons with the Giants, recording 75 sacks and forcing 32 fumbles over that span.
"My eyes have been opened: I understand the business pretty much as well as anybody in football right now because of a lot of the things that have happened," Umenyiora said. "And I know it's nothing personal."
That's the approach Umenyiora has taken into this offseason as some wonder if he’ll remain in the Falcons' plans. He signed a two-year, $8.5 million contract last offseason, a deal with a max value of $12 million. Umenyiora, who turns 33 in November, is due to count $4.75 million against the salary cap in 2014.
The Falcons could opt to draft a pass-rusher or add a younger defensive end via free agency, such as Brian Orakpo or Michael Johnson, to revive a listless pass rush. Umenyiora, who became a situational pass-rusher at the end of 2013, is prepared for any scenario.
"I know they are going to do whatever is necessary to better their team," he said. "That's just part of it. It's never personal. I'll always have a tremendous amount of respect and love for Mr. Dimitroff. He gave me a great opportunity. It's pretty much whatever at this point."
Umenyiora would be the first to admit he's not the force he once was, but he's still productive. People tend to forget how he made an immediate impact as a Falcon with a 68-yard interception return for a touchdown in a Week 2 win over St. Louis. Umenyiora finished the season with a team-leading 7.5 sacks, although he was far from satisfied with his overall performance.
Umenyiora's value to the Falcons, however, extends beyond game day. He is a consummate pro and his daily approach is a positive influence on young pass-rushers Jonathan Massaquoi, Malliciah Goodman and Stansly Maponga.
"This knowledge I have, I have to give it to somebody," Umenyiora said with a laugh. "I'm not going to play forever. I've done a lot in this league. I can't be greedy and keep this all to myself when there are young, hungry guys that I can give this knowledge to and make our team better."
Umenyiora’s selfless attitude was evident at season's end. While much was made of the Falcons taking him out of the starting lineup while the struggling team opted for a youth movement, Umenyiora said he voluntary approached Smith about being used more as a situational pass-rusher. As a result, it helped give the young defensive ends valuable reps.
"I didn't think I was using my ability the way I wanted to," Umenyiora said of approaching Smith. "He was completely fine with that. I guess that might have been something they were looking at, but he didn't say that. I don't know. We discussed it and it was something that was done."
One could argue Umenyiora would be an ideal mentor for a player such as South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, a guy the Falcons might have a chance to draft if they trade up from the sixth-overall spot. The question will be whether or not the Falcons view Umenyiora's $4.5 million cap number as too high based on his projected production, particularly if they add a pass-rusher or two. He is due a $1 million roster bonus in mid-March.
Releasing Umenyiora would save the Falcons $3.5 million against the cap.
"To say that money is not a lot would be crazy because that's a lot of money, period," Umenyiora said of his cap number. "But if you look at it strictly in football terms and what the top-tier defensive ends are getting paid. … Mario Williams, who is making like, what, $16 million per year? It's tough for me to answer that [money] question because it all depends on what my perceived value to the team is.''
Asked if he would be willing to take a pay cut, Umenyiora said he would let his agent, Tom Condon, handle those matters.
Umenyiora firmly believes he can continue on as an every-down player, and he is dedicating this offseason to fine-tuning aspects such as speed and hand work.
"Is being a situational pass-rusher something I want to do this upcoming season? I really don’t know," he said. "This coming season might be a totally different season. We might start off on fire. We might be leading teams by two touchdowns every game and then I just really get a chance to pin my ears back and do what I do best. I don't know how it’s going to play out.
"But do I want to see myself as just as situational pass-rusher? I would rather not. But whatever they tell me they want me to do, that's what I'll do."
No matter what happens in the immediate future, Umenyiora hasn't strayed from his goal of how many more years he wants to play.
"After this one, two more," Umenyiora said. "So basically three more. That might be a pipe dream. We'll see what happens with that, but that's what I wish. I want to do a couple more things: I want to win another Super Bowl and I want to go to another Pro Bowl. I'll give myself another few years to do that."
There is no doubt where veteran defensive end Osi Umenyiora wants to be next season.He owns a home in the Atlanta area. He feels an allegiance to his Falcons teammates.