Calais Campbell confirms Patrick Mahomes' theory on avoiding hard hits

Atlanta Falcons defensive tackle Calais Campbell has 99 sacks and 237 quarterback hits in his career. He spent the past three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before signing a one-year deal with the Falcons in March. Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Sometimes, a little kindness can go a long way -- or in the NFL, a little way to not being hit quite as hard by your opponent.

At least that’s Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ theory. Mahomes said during an episode of the new Netflix series "Quarterback" that he’ll sometimes offer complimentary words to defensive players in an effort to make them like him.

It seems like wishful thinking, except it’s not, says Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who has 99 sacks and 237 quarterback hits in his career.

“That’s very true. He let the cat out of the bag now, though,” Campbell said Tuesday during the team's media availability. “Be nice because you don’t want to get hit. But there is definite truth to that.”

Campbell, who was placed on the non-football injury list Tuesday with an injury a source told ESPN is not considered concerning, joined the Falcons on a one-year deal in March. He spent his first nine seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before joining the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, for three seasons each.

Campbell said the nicest quarterback he has played against in his 15 seasons is former Indianapolis Colts star Andrew Luck, who was famously known for complimenting his sackers. Campbell had a half-sack and three quarterback hits on Luck in 2013 and had a sack and three quarterback hits on Luck over two games in 2018.

The veteran defensive tackle said Mahomes has also been complimentary, but “has a little fire in him, too.” He mentioned New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers as someone else who has been nice to him. Campbell has sacked Rodgers three times over three games in his career. The Jets and Falcons play in December.

“Quarterbacks are smart,” Campbell said. “They know. Certain guys, you don’t want to piss off.”

But maybe not everyone is so smart. When Campbell was asked which quarterbacks were not particularly nice, he paused for a second before mentioning retired quarterback Philip Rivers, a well-known trash-talker, but said Rivers “was never disrespectful.”

One who was? New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones, who Campbell has faced one time. Campbell, who recorded a quarterback hit on Jones in their meeting last season, said Jones was “kind of disrespectful.”

“I don’t even remember now [what Jones said],” Campbell said. “Just trash-talking to the highest level. But it was just, ‘You don’t trash talk me.’”

Campbell said he typically will try to hit opposing quarterbacks “within reason all the time,” in part because he doesn’t want to hurt his team or himself with potential penalties or fines. He recognizes quarterbacks are the faces of the league and some, he believes, get protected a bit -- mentioning Mahomes and recently retired Tom Brady, who ended up in his own issue with the Falcons last season after a Grady Jarrett sack was flagged for roughing the passer in a critical moment of an eventual loss to Tampa Bay.

“There are certain guys, you can’t tackle them too hard,” Campbell said. “Honestly, I mean, sacks count, too. I don’t know how many sacks I’ve had called back in my career, way more than should be, though. You don’t want to hurt the team but you don’t want to hurt yourself. You tackle the quarterback within the rules and certain guys you got to make sure you’re overemphasizing the rules because it is the way the game is going.

“Keep the quarterback safe. The game, we sell out tickets and all that good stuff, but you still got to hit them though. You still got to rough ‘em up.”