Atlanta Falcons: Defense gutted without Lofton, Abraham

00908 Flowery Branch; Former Atlanta Falcons center Jeff Van Note, left, and current Falcons center Todd McClure, right, are shown after Falcons practice at Falcons training camp Wednesday afternoon in Flowery Branch, Ga., Sept. 8, 2010. McClure is the current Falcons center who broke the team record for consecutive starts when Atlanta opened at Pittsburgh last season. Jeff Van Note is the Falcons Ring of Honor center who started 225 games. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com

00908 Flowery Branch; Former Atlanta Falcons center Jeff Van Note, left, and current Falcons center Todd McClure, right, are shown after Falcons practice at Falcons training camp Wednesday afternoon in Flowery Branch, Ga., Sept. 8, 2010. McClure is the current Falcons center who broke the team record for consecutive starts when Atlanta opened at Pittsburgh last season. Jeff Van Note is the Falcons Ring of Honor center who started 225 games. Jason Getz jgetz@ajc.com

Back on Jan. 10, Falcons owner Arthur Blank  stated:

“Our goal is to win rings, to get championships and eventually win a Super Bowl for this community. That’s our goal.”

Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff stated:

“We know that we need to get better in many, many areas. It is my job to make sure that I step back with coach [Mike] Smith and obviously, Mr. Blank, and look at all aspects of the football operations and determine where we need to make changes and where we need to adjust going forward.”

Dimitroff noted that there would be no “sacred cows” on the roster. “I don’t care where we drafted them or how we acquired them in free agency,” Dimitroff said.

With free agency underway, a clearer picture is starting to form. Three key starters — center Todd McClure, defensive end John Abraham and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton — became free agents.

Curtis Lofton, the Falcons' leading tackler over the past four seasons, appears headed to free agency.  (Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com)

Curtis Lofton, the Falcons' leading tackler over the past four seasons, appears headed to free agency. (Curtis Compton, ccompton@ajc.com)

The Falcons will have gutted the defense if Lofton and Abraham find big money deals out on the open market. They have a plausible plan for replacing Lofton, but right now Ray Edwards and Kroy Biermann are the starting defensive ends.

 The offense will move in another direction without McClure, whom quarterback Matt Ryan calls one of the “cornerstone stones” of the offense and franchise.

It’s also clear that the Falcons will not be a major player in free agency and will shift their focus to the draft and getting cornerback Brent Grimes to either sign the $10.281 million franchise tag or agree to a new long-term contract.

Here’s the story on McClure, Abraham and Lofton becoming free agents:

Three key contributors to the Falcons’ success over the past four seasons became unrestricted free agents Tuesday.

Center Todd McClure, defensive end John Abraham and middle linebacker Curtis Lofton helped the Falcons reached the playoffs in three of the past four seasons and win the NFC South title in 2011.

The three players all played key roles as the Falcons amassed a 43-21 record, the fifth-best mark in the league over that period. They are now free to negotiate contracts with all 32 teams after the NFL’s new business year started at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

110804 Flowery Branch - Atlanta Falcons defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards watch a play from the sidelines during practice at training camp as Edwards gets some pointers from his new teammate in Flowery Branch on Thursday, August 4, 2011.     Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

110804 Flowery Branch - Atlanta Falcons defensive ends John Abraham and Ray Edwards watch a play from the sidelines during practice at training camp as Edwards gets some pointers from his new teammate in Flowery Branch on Thursday, August 4, 2011. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

The team reached contract terms with quarterback Chris Redman (one year) and wide receiver Harry Douglas (four years) about five hours into free agency.

Douglas, of Jonesboro, has been the team’s No. 3 receiver. He has caught 84 passes for 1,112 yards in three seasons. He missed the 2009 season because of a knee injury.

Also, offensive tackle Kirk Chambers, cornerback Kelvin Hayden, tight end Reggie Kelly, linebacker Mike Peterson, center/guard Brett Romberg, safety James Sanders, wide receiver Eric Weems and long snapper Joe Zelenka became unrestricted free agents.

Defensive tackle Vance Walker, a restricted free agent, received a tender offer of $1.26 million Tuesday. He’s a restricted free agent.

Over the past week, the Falcons re-signed three of their players and placed a $10.2 million franchise tag on cornerback Brett Grimes. They also signed linebacker Lofa Tatupu and offensive guard Vince Manuwai.

After those dealings, the Falcons didn’t have enough room under the $120.6 million salary cap to accommodate the contract demands of Lofton, Abraham and to a lesser degree McClure.

“Every player is going to want as much money as they can get,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff said recently in an interview of 790 The Zone. “That’s human nature.”

McClure, who turned 35 in February, had his team-record streak of 144 consecutive starts snapped last season. He broke the franchise record for consecutive games during the 2010 season, surpassing Keith Brooking’s mark of 128 (2000-08).

The Falcons drafted Joe Hawley as his heir apparent in 2010.

Near the end of the season, quarterback Matt Ryan credited McClure for much of his early success.

“For me, personally, he’s been huge in my development,” Ryan said. “He carried me the first two years in terms of pass protection and getting things set in the run game. He took a lot off my plate.”

Abraham, who turns 34 in May, has been the team’s top sacker since being acquired in a trade in 2006. In 2008, he had 16.5 quarterback sacks. He currently has 112 career sacks, 58.5 in six seasons with the Falcons.

Lofton, the team’s leading tackler over the past four season, was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft. He had 577 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

The Falcons will attempt to replace Lofton with Tatupu, who did not play last season. Also, Akeem Dent will get a chance to win playing time.

–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog

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223 comments Add your comment

stauff

March 14th, 2012
7:34 am

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 14th, 2012
7:39 am

HERE ARE ALL OF THE OFFSEASON TRANSACTIONS TO DATE:
March
•13 – Agreed to terms with QB Chris Redman and WR Harry Douglas
•10 – Agreed to terms with free agent LB Lofa Tatupu
•9 – Signed free agent OG Vince Manuwai
•8 – Agreed to terms with RB Jason Snelling
•7 – Re-signed DE Kroy Biermann
•6 – Re-signed S Thomas DeCoud and signed TE Michael Palmer and RB Antone Smith to exclusive rights contracts
January
•20 – Signed RB Dimitri Nance to reserve/future contract
•9 – Signed WR Drew Davis, TE Tommy Gallarda, S Matt Hansen, OL Kyle Jolly, S Suaesi Tuimaunei and TE Ryan Winterswyk to reserve/future contracts

Roman Falcons69

March 14th, 2012
7:40 am

For the moment Curtis is not officially a Buc? Correct?

SWAT Native

March 14th, 2012
7:45 am

Shouldn’t let the Mud Duck get away. He’s the anchor for the OL.

Philip Minutillo

March 14th, 2012
7:46 am

What free agents are on the Falcons radar? I would have thought defense would have been the theme
in Fa?

Erskine martin

March 14th, 2012
7:47 am

I would hate to see McClure leave the team. He is very knowledgable of defenses and helps Ryan more than most folks know. KEEP HIM TK….As for the others on defense. Let’s start new. Abraham, Edwards, and everyone except Grimes did not impress me at all last season and were a liability. Let’s get some people who know how to tacle and have “heart” not just names..GO FALCONS!!!!!!

Big Ray

March 14th, 2012
7:47 am

Lofton is not a Buc just yet. Seems his asking price was more than even they could stomach, and they wisely decided that WR is a bigger need (which they filled). Lofton, like it or not, will remain on the back burner as the Bucs turn their eyes towards Carl Nicks.

At the same time, don’t look for Lofton to be a Falcon, either. Falcons have already moved on.

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 14th, 2012
7:48 am

Roman Falcons69 — correct.

Big Ray

March 14th, 2012
7:49 am

Mud Duck is good, but when do you cut the chord? Now might be as good a time as any. Either Hawley is ready, or he ain’t. I say he is, and I also say that you still have to have an option. Mud Duck might be it, but I’d let Hawley start. He got his cherry burst last season before the problems at Right Guard got to be so bad that they had to move him to that spot.

Why delay his development/experience?

D. Orlando Ledbetter

March 14th, 2012
7:51 am

Phillip Minutillo — Only person we can link them to at this time is Kendall Langford. I asked Kelving Hayden’s agent Fletcher Smith about him yesterday and he told me he was two months away from working out, then told Josina Anderson he was visiting the Bears today. Shaking my head.

some sense

March 14th, 2012
7:52 am

D Led,

What’s the real story here? Not to say losing Abraham, Lofton, McClure is all that bad, but team can’t compete w/ what they’ve got now. Aren’t they really kidding themselves if they think they can? They’ve signed some guys who may have an upside, but the key word is “may”. Beyond that, apparently they’ve promoted some second stringers. Fact…Second stringers are second stringers. Where do we go from here to win Mr. Blank’s rings?????

dean

March 14th, 2012
7:56 am

It’s looking like the Falcons better score 40 or more.

GDawg

March 14th, 2012
7:57 am

DOL Wouldn’t the Falcons be better off going with Anderson, Mincey or even Jones rather than Langford at DE? We need a pass rush not a run stop that is what Edwards is for.

gman

March 14th, 2012
7:58 am

Are their ANY rumblings about new signings? I would be perfectly ok letting Lofton and Abraham walk if we were to nab a Mario Williams type DE/LB. But if we do nothing, it would be very frustrating. I can’t see AB doing nothing and expecting to put butts in seats.

FearthePaw

March 14th, 2012
7:59 am

Are they blowing the team up for next season????

Kramer

March 14th, 2012
8:00 am

I have to admit after keeping the faith yesterday with this front office, it is sort of baffling on what they are doing. I mean, if you gut this team of veterans and are not active with F/A’s then are you planning on building in the draft with no first round pick? If there is no action today then I will assume that is their plan. If that is their plan, it does not bode well for this season.

jay

March 14th, 2012
8:04 am

dude, you got beat to a story by the fox 5 sports reporters. wow, lol. guess this will get deleted too.

JSS

March 14th, 2012
8:04 am

Whistling and watching of that crow being served… Man how the tables turned!

@ Ledbetter…
When it sank in out at the Branch that Free Agency wasn’t going to be their cup of tea; how was the mood?

GDawg

March 14th, 2012
8:06 am

Thing is you have to keep faith in the front office look at the 49ers from last year they had the same team as Mike Singletary and they turned it around. You don’t always need new players sometimes coaches can change things.

Double Zero Eight

March 14th, 2012
8:08 am

Looks like the Falcons will be “one and done”
again next year based on the signings to this point.

Khaos

March 14th, 2012
8:10 am

Fire Smitty and Dimitroff

[...] Atlanta Falcons This entry was posted in Atlanta Falcons and tagged Abraham, Atlanta, defense, Falcons, gutted, Lofton, without. Bookmark the permalink. ← The Top 5 Day 1 NFL Free Agent Signings for 2012: A Fan’s Take (Yahoo! Contributor Network) [...]

Loyal Falcon

March 14th, 2012
8:11 am

Hopefully we make a solid move today.

Tommy Maddox

March 14th, 2012
8:13 am

Mr. Blank should go watch the video of his Jan. 10th news conference. It might remind him of a few things.

Loyal Falcon

March 14th, 2012
8:14 am

We are already a talented team. The new coaches we got will be our best acquisitions.

GDawg

March 14th, 2012
8:15 am

Enter your comments here

GB70

March 14th, 2012
8:19 am

One of the hardest things in the world to do is be a FALCONS FAN with the team never really making the right moves to build a winning team……we always tend to over pay players that dont earn their salary and let the productive players go…..

chaffust

March 14th, 2012
8:20 am

we need to get lofton back dimitroff is pissin me off not alot of draft picks plus no lofton we taking too many steps back hope the new dc get it rite

Brog59

March 14th, 2012
8:22 am

One and done? How about a middle of the pack finish in the NFC south. Cannot lose major defensive players on a D that was already sketchy at best and not replace with equal or better talent! This team is going in the wrong direction. Better coaching and scheme will help but still lack talent at an alarming rate on the D line!

Joey

March 14th, 2012
8:23 am

Atlanta Falcons – RIP

Mikefalcon63

March 14th, 2012
8:23 am

Everyone is freaking out b/c we let go of Abraham and are not beating down the door to bring in Mario Williams. As a reminder, Mike Nolan said he would rather have 11 guys end the season with 4 or 5 sacks than have 1 or 2 end with 9…. Something to that effect. If Nolan believes Langford to be a good fit, hey they guy has way more years of coaching experience on the NFL level than anyone commenting on this thread.

Joey

March 14th, 2012
8:27 am

So, we lost our leading tackler and our leading sacker off of a D that keeps getting shellacked in the first round of the playoffs?

Oh boy . . .

Brad

March 14th, 2012
8:29 am

Are you guys serious? Lofton was a OK linebacker, NOT ELITE. Abraham got 9 sacks against crappy teams. he gets manhandled by good tackles and he is 34 and wants 12 million? good riddance to both of them. McClure is a a decent center, but he isn’t worth the money he thinks he is worth.

falcon 8211

March 14th, 2012
8:31 am

The PROCESS! LMAO .

GB70

March 14th, 2012
8:34 am

Nolan is not going to get his wish of a bunch of guys with 4 or 5 sacks with the players we have left on the team……with abe gone the sack leaders are witherspoon and sidbury with 4 sacks a piece….maybe if sidbury get more PT his numbers will go up…..

kevkat

March 14th, 2012
8:34 am

Sorry, I just don’t see any progress at this moment. Losing 3 of your best players, picking up some re-treads, ….just doesn’t look promising at the moment.

bigboo220

March 14th, 2012
8:35 am

Dol do you think Sidbury will compete to start de. I read somewhere his sacks compared to playing time was real close to Abrahams.

Karl

March 14th, 2012
8:36 am

Paging Norm van Brocklin!

Chattanooga Chuck

March 14th, 2012
8:37 am

Didn’t the Jaguars resign Mincey?

If hope Sid and Biermann are ready to break out.

JSS

March 14th, 2012
8:38 am

GDawg
March 14th, 2012
8:06 am
“Thing is you have to keep faith in the front office look at the 49ers from last year they had the same team as Mike Singletary and they turned it around.”

Another Atlanta myth… The 49ers made a number of major moves. They went and spent major money on David Akers ($9M). The 2010 Niners lost 4 of their first 8 because of kicking game. They addressed that coming out of the lockout… The 2010 49ers made 22 FA roster moves, add that to 10 draft picks. Their first pick was Aldon Smith, and any real football fan knows that he was lights out!

Yes, Harbaugh did the most important thing provided offensive competence! However, the front office filled holes and upgraded glaring shortcomings dating back to Nolan’s time there!

Rafael

March 14th, 2012
8:39 am

Now that Liberty CHEAPIA also owns the Falcons, does that mean “Dome Dogs” and other concessions will be 33% less in the Georgia Dome????!!!

GB70

March 14th, 2012
8:39 am

@BRAD I am with you but they are not replacing those players with better players…..that is what is pissing me off….both of our FA signings did not play football last year and have been labeled as injury prone….WTH….and some of the ones we resigned I feel they should have let go

kevkat

March 14th, 2012
8:39 am

Brad, do you honestly think who they picked up and what players they are left with are better than Lofton and Abe… get real. This team is in as much trouble now as it has been in the past at the present moment.

Dan

March 14th, 2012
8:41 am

Look Mario is not going to end up in Buffalo all there is up there is Old Houses and Dirty Snow. He will still end up in Atlanta with a Mansion on Lake Lanier or some million dollar subdivision close to Flowery Branch. Falcons have one of the best facilities and the best ownership and management. He can get Buffalo Wings here!

JSS

March 14th, 2012
8:41 am

Karl
March 14th, 2012
8:36 am
“Paging Norm van Brocklin!”

Hi, this Van Brocklin’s grave yard answering machine… I’m currently eating clay cakes and drinking root juice; oh, I have no desire to come back!

Ralph

March 14th, 2012
8:43 am

Dept Chart guys and the least expensive players.

Ken

March 14th, 2012
8:43 am

The Falcons may not be able to keep some of their key players. They may not be able to sign some players that we truly need but one thing I’m certain about and that is I’m thankful we have what we’ve got. I remember what it was like trying to be a Falcon fan through the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and so forth and what Mr Blank has done is bring a respectable team to the NFL. At least now it seems like we have a chance come gamedays.

Samuel

March 14th, 2012
8:45 am

I think some fans lose prospective, letting players go who are long in the tooth is a reality. I don’t put to much stock in big name players, the bottom line is chemistry. The New England Patriots compete every year in the playoffs, without name players. You have to have a coaching staff who can coach players up. I like Lofton, Abraham, and Mudd Duck, but these are players they the Falcons can do well without.

GDawg

March 14th, 2012
8:48 am

@JSS They have worked on filling our holes with the OC and DC, also resigning our young FA. Listen I wanted a big name just like everyone else but the front office does get payed to make the right decision so they can make more money. I really don’t think they would make poor decisions to jepordize their jobs.

True Falcon Fan

March 14th, 2012
8:50 am

OK so you don’t like Nolan — What’s your problem with him??