Falcons safety Chris Hope, a 10-year NFL veteran, wants to finish his NFL career on a high note.
Last season, the former Tennessee Titan played in 10 games and made just two starts as he battled through two (dislocated shoulder and forearm) injuries.
When his six-year, $30.6 million contract expired after last season, he was not re-signed. The Falcons, who were looking for some depth at the safety position, signed Hope to a one-year, $925,000 contract. The parties agreed to terms on June 29.
Hope, who has been a starter at free safety for most of his career, won a Super Bowl (XL) ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers and went to the Pro Bowl following the 2008 season.
Hope, who turns 32 in September, has 690 tackles, four sacks and 20 interceptions over his career with the Steelers (2002-05) and Titans (2006-11).
Hope spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution via phone Tuesday about joining the Falcons, his iCHope Foundation, his times with the Steelers and Titans and how he plans to fit in with the Falcons.
Q: What was attractive about signing with the Falcons?
A: The Atlanta Falcons looked good to me because they are a veteran-led team with a lot of young talent. I think they are on verge of doing something special. They’ve been to the playoffs in [three of] of the past [four] seasons. They had the best record in the entire conference two years ago, but they’ve been just coming up short. They have the makings of being a Super Bowl team. I think that they are right there, knocking on the door. I feel like, for where I’m at in my career, I want to play for something. I don’t want to play for a check. I want to play for an opportunity to win another ring.
Q: How tough was it for you last season, battling through the shoulder and forearm injuries and just starting two games?
A: It was a sad way to end my career in Tennessee if I may say so. I played some good football at a high-level and it was sad that my last year ended with an injury. I did not get a chance to go out and show everybody in the league that I can still play at a high-level. I feel that had a lot to do with why teams were scared to pick me up or why it took so long.
Q: Is that correct that you only received one B over your academic career?
A: Yes, I was as straight-A student my entire career. From grade school all the way through college. I graduated Summa Cum Laude. I made one B in my entire career of school. That takes a lot of discipline, hard work and good character. I try to be the best that I can be at everything that I do. I try to do the same thing when it comes to my career.
Q: What was the B in?
A: I can’t remember, but I think it was in one those advanced placement classes in high school.
Q: How will you fit into the Falcons defense?
A: I feel like they have a great secondary with the addition of Asante Samuel, [Dunta] Robinson, [Brent] Grimes and all of those guys are highly touted and elite corners in my opinion. The safeties that they’ve had the last few years are real good and they are young. With my leadership and my veteran experience, I can just come in and help them out with whatever I can. I feel like I can still play at a high-level. But again, I’ll just do whatever they ask me to do.
Q: How did your foundation’s [iCHope Foundation] fundraiser go this spring?
A: This year we helped out the Women’s Shelter [in my hometown of Rock Hill, S.C.] It was a good opportunity for me to give back to the community and touch more than just one person’s life. I’m a very religious guy. I have a strong faith. I’m Christian. I feel that the more you are given, the more you are required to give. So, I feel like giving back to an organization like the Women’s Shelter was a good opportunity for me to touch many families.
Q: Where did you get this sense of community service from?
A: I’ve never forgotten where I came from. Those people back in Rock Hill love me just for who I am and not just for what I do. They’ve been in my corner since I first picked up a football. There are a lot of great places out here to live, but there’s no place like home.
Q: Will there be much of a difference coming over to the NFC after spending you entire career in the AFC?
A: It will be a different experience. When I was younger, I would say that it was easier to make the Pro Bowl in the NFC. In the AFC, we had Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu in the AFC for so long that it was so hard to make the Pro Bowl. If those guys would not have been there, I probably would have been a Pro Bowler two or three more times.
Q: What will you tell your new teammates about winning a Super Bowl ring?
A: That was one of the things that drew me to Atlanta. They are serious about not just being a good football team. They want to be the best football team. Going out and getting Asante Samuel and signing the guys back from last year was big. Matt Ryan is a great quarterback. [Michael] Turner is a great running back. They have two high-powered receivers in Roddy White and the young guy from Alabama [Julio Jones]. They have all the tools and the keys to be a Super Bowl contender.
Q: Are you familiar with defensive coordinator Mike Nolan or any of the other coaches on the staff?
A: Mike Smith was the defensive coordinator for the Jaguars the many times that I played them while with Tennessee. During my stint in Pittsburgh, defensive backs coach Tim Lewis was my defensive coordinator my first three years in Pittsburgh. Nolan was at the 49ers when I came out in the draft and when I was a free agent. I’ve crossed paths with a few guys. When you’re blessed to have an opportunity to stay in the league for a while there are not too many guys or too many things that you haven’t ran across.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog