Katherine TerrellESPN Staff Writer7 Minute Read
METAIRIE, La. — New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, the longest-tenured player on the roster, isn’t sure when he started thinking of his younger teammates as “kids.”
But he thinks it was around 2015, when Jordan was 26 and in his fifth season.
Jordan and a cast of rookies crashed and burned that season with 30 sacks (10 from him, tied for 28th in the league).
“We had a full locker room shift,” Jordan recalled. “We had like six or seven rookie D-linemen that I had to deal with, and I was like ‘At this point, you guys are kids!’ I was raising children as we were going along. Ever since then, it’s gotten a lot easier.”
As Jordan approaches his 34th birthday in July, he’s at another crossroads. Many of his peers are gone, and the defensive line group is again facing major turnover, with part of the group made up of starry-eyed rookies.
“Entire new defensive line,” he said with a shrug and a smile. “We do not have a single starter returning from last year except me.”
The father of four joked “raising” two rookies — second-round pick Isaiah Foskey, who said he wants to be the next Jordan, and first-round pick Bryan Bresee — would be a piece of cake compared to the group he had earlier in his career.
“I guess if you’re going to try to learn from somebody, [Jordan] would be a good one to learn from,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said.
The biggest change in Jordan’s life over the last decade, aside from his growing family, is his work off the field. In the offseason he worked as a sideline reporter for the XFL and recently was an analyst for the USFL. He recently partnered with the NFL and NFLPA as a spokesman for NFL Rivals, an NFL video game for mobile phones.
A casual conversation would give no hint that he’s any different than the 21-year-old whom Saints general manager Mickey Loomis recently recalled speaking to on draft night, describing him as “talkative and all over the place” with a “high-pitched voice.”
Taken in the first round of the 2011 draft, Jordan has not changed, including cracking snarky jokes at the expense of NFC South rivals.
But the league has changed around him. He remembers being a rookie himself, trying to make his father, Steve, proud. It was Steve, a six-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Vikings, who dropped Cam off at football practice in eighth grade when Cam was convinced he’d be a basketball player.
Jordan’s competitive juices flowed after he reluctantly suited up for his first game after weeks of practices under the brutal Arizona sun. He got all of two reps that night and stewed on it. He’d never let that happen again.
“My competitive drive in me doesn’t allow just two or three reps,” Jordan told ESPN. “I’m doing all this work, I’m doing all these gassers … all this conditioning, I’m still hitting people and I’m not getting any reps. Nah, from now on, it’s me. So I was my own worst enemy.
“I’m probably still my worst enemy, but now I use it as a motivating factor.”
That motivation carried him for years, with football being his entire focus. The rookies now are more polished and understand the business side better.
Sometimes, it makes a 10-year age difference feel like decades.
“These kids born in the late ’90s and early 2000s get a little different,” Jordan said. “The combination of social media as well as now, guys coming from NIL (name, image and likeness) deals to also them also having different loves. When I first got to the league, I was like, ‘I just want to be good at my position.’ Guys come in, they’re like ‘Hey, I’ve got this business going, I’ve got this music artist, I’ve got whatever.’ Multiple avenues, and I’m not knocking it, I’m just saying what my dad has always told me: ‘Keep the main thing the main thing.’
“When you’re in school, keep school the most important factor. When you’re out of school as an adult, you get drafted by a team, they invest money into you, they invest opportunity into you, do what you can to make the most of the opportunity.”
How does an almost 34-year-old relate to teammates more than a decade younger?
“They’re still men at the end of the day. At the end of the day, we don’t change much at our core,” Jordan said. “Whether you have a family, might be the only difference, but you still love to go sit around, chop it up, talk about music, video games.”
Jordan could walk away now and be inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame in five years. He passed up Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson last season to earn the franchise sack record (115.5) and has missed one game his entire career after fracturing his orbital bone in November.
He has been to eight Pro Bowls (including last season), and other than a championship, has nothing left to prove.
That drive still lingers, and Jordan sees it in new quarterback Derek Carr. In his opening news conference as a Saint, Carr talked about winning Super Bowls in New Orleans. Jordan could relate.
“[Carr] was talking about winning, and beyond that, trying to go for a Super Bowl. And beyond that, that’s all you can really ask,” Jordan said. “I’m trying to win a Super Bowl. I don’t have another 12 years of play. I don’t have another 10 years of play.
“We don’t know these things, but we do know that we have a window that’s open.”
Some veterans choose to skip OTAs and wait for training camp. Jordan, despite taking time to take his family to Spain this offseason before joining the team, said he didn’t want to do that. He believes team bonding should start as early as possible, a sentiment 34-year-old Pro Bowl linebacker Demario Davis shares. Davis called Jordan a few times leading up to OTAs to organize offseason outings — go-karts, bowling and even a trip to Dave & Buster’s — for the team.
“I love being around teammates, and honestly, it’s that much easier to buy back into it when you don’t remove yourself,” Jordan said when asked about why he showed up in the offseason. “I’m in it because I love being here. My kids are being homeschooled right now, so if I didn’t, I’d probably be in Arizona right now. But the physical location is not what’s tying me down, it’s the fact that we were able to work out as a group, to bond as a D-line.
“You love it, love to see everybody pulling together. There’s a reason I feel like the difference between a good team and a great team is how close you are in the locker room.”
Jordan knows the years are drawing to an end. He doesn’t know when that is, and his opinion on it changes by the week.
“If we get a deal done, that’ll probably be the final years of my career here,” Jordan said last week at the Saints Hall of Fame golf tournament.
“I don’t know if there will ever come a time when I say I’m done with football or football is done with me. … But we’ll deal with that as the time comes. Right now, I’m just enjoying playing football and the way we do things.”