UPDATE: Former Falcons middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, a second round draft pick in 2008, agreed to a five-year contract with the New Orleans Saints on Saturday night.
“Curtis is a versatile, hard-working player that has displayed a knack for being around the football, and more importantly, making plays on the ball,” New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement released by the team. “He has the ability to play all three linebacker positions and we feel that he’s just entering the prime of his career. We think he can come to New Orleans and fit in well and provide us with a significant contribution to our defense.”
PREVIOUS POST: The curious case of Curtis Lofton’s free agency
With Detroit re-signing Stephen Tulloch to a five-year contract, former Falcons linebacker Curtis Lofton is the biggest named linebacker still out on the free agency market.
He lost one possible suitor when the Philadelphia Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans.
Also, former Seattle linebacker David Hawthorne has not signed.
Both Hawthorne and Lofton visited the New Orleans Saints over the weekend. Lofton also has an offer from Tampa Bay.
Lofton went out to dinner on Sunday night with New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, head coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and linebackers coach Joe Vitt. He met with the coaches on Monday to talk a little football.
Hawthorne met with the Saints on Saturday and early Sunday.
The linebacker market was set early in free agency when San Francisco signed linebacker Ahmad Brooks to a six-year, $44.5 million contract with $17.5 million of it guaranteed and Cleveland signed linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to a five-year contract worth $42.5 million. A total of $19 million is guaranteed.
The numbers are not in on Tulloch’s deal, but there’s some speculation that he landed in Jackson’s neighborhood.
So now, here are the top five contracts for inside linebackers:
1. Patrick Willis, San Francisco: seven years, $53.51 million, $29 million guaranteed.
2. Jon Beason, Carolina: six years, $51.3 million, $25 million guaranteed.
3. Jerod Mayo, New England: seven years,$49.85 million, $25 million guaranteed.
4. D’Qwell Jackson, Cleveland: five years, $ 42.5 million, $19.5 million guaranteed.
5. David Harris, New York Jets: four years, $36 million, $29.5 million guaranteed.
The Falcons held talks with Lofton’s representatives at the scouting combine in Indianapolis. Those talks were termed as amicable, but the team elected to move in another direction.
Lofton has played 95, 95 and 99 percent of the defensive snaps over the last three years. Lofton, the team’s leading tackler over the past four seasons, was drafted in the second round of the 2008 draft. He had 577 tackles, four sacks, two interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
As things stand, the Falcons will attempt to replace Lofton with Lofa Tatupu, 29, a three-time Pro Bowler who did not play last season. Also, Akeem Dent will get a chance to win playing time. The Falcons continue to talk to Lofton’s camp and have described those talks as productive.
It’s possible that Lofton may have priced himself out of the market and may have to return to the Falcons for a year and then take another shot at free agency next offseason because most of the money is drying up.
Here’s an interesting film review by Adam Caplan and Greg Cosell on the Philadelphia Eagles website of Tulloch, Jo-Lonn Dunbar (Matt Ryan’s college roomie), Hawthorne, Lofton and Wesley Woodyard (of LaGrange). (Fast forward to 4:56 if you just need the Lofton critique.)
Here’s what Cosell had to say about Lofton:
“I think he’s a guy who does everything well and nothing spectacular,” Cosell said. “But he’s their middle linebacker. He’s very solid, consistent player week after week, snap after snap.”
That’s a problem. If teams are paying you $8 million per year that want more than steady play. They want to see those spectacular plays that Cosell doesn’t see.
“I think Lofton is a complete player, just not a spectacular player,” Cosell said.
Maybe Lofton will have to re-adjust his expectations much like defensive end John Abraham did. He was looking for something in the $12 million per year range before settling for a three-year deal that averages $7 million.
For most of his first four seasons, Lofton was considered one of the cornerstones of the defense. Clearly, something has changed.
–D. Orlando Ledbetter, The Atlanta Falcons beat blog