Lofton bolts for the Saints

On Saturday night, Curtis Lofton agreed to a five-year deal with the New Orleans Saints. The following day Lofton had some interesting quotes in an article written by Mike Triplett of The Times-Picayune. Those quotes probably riled up many a Falcon fan that read them. But I have taken a different viewpoint. I don’t read Lofton’s statement(s) as ones meant to slight the Falcons or their fan base.

Here are the key excerpts of what Lofton said to Triplette:

Lofton, who turns 26 this summer, admitted that he didn’t expect to even become a free agent. After being a full-time starter and leader for the Atlanta Falcons over the past four years, he thought the Falcons would try to re-sign him and continue to build their defense around him.

“I was told they wanted me to start my career as a Falcon and end as a Falcon,” Lofton said.

Once he hit the open market, Lofton wound up taking only one free agent visit and he knew that New Orleans was the place for him. He admitted that the market was surprisingly slow-moving for middle linebackers, but he also was being patient, turning down some overtures from several teams.

“I wanted to go to a team that, No. 1, had a chance to win a Super Bowl, had true fans, a great defensive coordinator. Then once the Saints called, I was like, ‘Wow,'” Lofton said. “When I took my visit there, I loved it. I knew I was going there. I didn’t need to visit anywhere else. I told my agent that.”

Lofton said he is a “loyal guy,” so he wanted to give the Falcons a chance to keep him. But he liked what the Saints were offering better, so he wound up switching sides in the NFC’s South’s most heated rivalry.
Although that was a tough decision to make — and he has been hearing plenty of criticism from Falcons fan — Lofton said it was for the best.

One thing I know from playing against this team and from talking to them, they’re rallying together. It’s us vs. them. And this team is a winner. And from just talking to Vilma and everyone, I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

Without context, these quotes seem to slight the Falcons and their fanbase. That the Falcons lack “true fans.” I don’t think that is what Lofton said one bit. Let’s look at the facts:

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Curtis Lofton

  • Lofton first visited the Saints on March 18
  • Lofton signed with the Saints on March 24
  • Lofton only visited one team, the Saints

By examining the facts, they clearly show that Lofton wanted to remain a Falcon. Overwhelmingly so, he gave the Falcons essentially six days between when he visited the Saints and signed with them to get back into the derby. Now you could certainly argue that Lofton was disappointed that the Falcons didn’t make a better offer to him and he felt slighted, and thus lashed out. But you could also read that Lofton was just looking for the same qualities he saw in Atlanta in another team, and the Saints were the only team that fit that description.

His criteria of finding a team that had true fans, capable of winning a Super Bowl, and a great defensive coordinator also can be used to describe the Falcons. Why else did it take him six days to sign in New Orleans? It doesn’t normally take six days to negotiate a contract. A day or two, or in the rare cases when you’re dealing with huge Mario Williams money, it could take three days.

I think most of that six-day period was used with Lofton and his representatives playing chicken with the Falcons. And I think the Falcons called his bluff.

I don’t blame the Falcons one bit for making that decision. I think it’s one of their bolder decisions, and unlike the Julio Jones trade, I think it makes a lot more football sense. Curtis Lofton is a good, young middle linebacker that is coming off arguably his best season as a pro. But Lofton also is not a player that has shown a ton of improvement over his career as a Falcon, particularly the last three years. He is better than he was in 2009, but not by a huge degree. And in reality, it’s unlikely he’ll become a significantly better player over the next three years.

Lofton has his strengths and has his weaknesses, and they will likely remain so for the rest of his career. He is a good run defender. He is a mediocre at best pass defender. He has improved in the latter phase, but he’ll never reach a point where it’s a strength of his game. He lacks the speed, quickness, and agility to match up in man coverage, and he is still prone to being caught out of position when working in zone as well.

Lofton is often applauded for his leadership. And while he is a very good leader in terms of leading by example, he’s a very, quiet ho-hum guy. The guy that is more willing and able to take the bull by the horns for that unit was Mike Peterson. I do think if Peterson was not re-signed, Lofton could assume some of that mantle going forward. But I do think he and Sean Weatherspoon would have functioned primarily as co-leaders of that unit. Tatupu has many of the same leadership traits that Lofton exhibits, and I don’t think the Falcons are going to take any step back in that department.

Because of Lofton’s issues in coverage, I don’t think the Falcons needed to bend over backwards to keep him. That coupled with his departure won’t cripple the locker room due to Tatupu’s presence, it was a bold move for the Falcons, but a smart one. They didn’t need to spend market value for a player that is not really going to improve over the next four to five years. In fact, he is a player that could have just peaked in 2011. The league is a passing league, and the Falcons need more linebackers like Sean Weatherspoon that are true everydown playmakers, rather than players like Lofton who are not.

I applaud the Falcons decision to pass on Lofton. And I also hold no ill will towards Lofton for signing with the Saints. If I had been in his shoes, I probably would have signed with the Saints as well.

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Aaron Freeman
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