In a series of tweets on Wednesday evening, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport outlined the Atlanta Falcons options and plans for replacing injured linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. According to Rapoport, the Falcons will take a “hard look” at signing veteran linebacker Jonathan Vilma, formerly of the New Orleans Saints as well as considering other options in Pat Angerer and Tim Dobbins. Per Rapoport, the team is not interested in signing veterans James Harrison or London Fletcher.
Weatherspoon suffered a torn Achilles on Tuesday during practice and will miss the entire 2014 season. Weatherspoon’s loss is a significant blow to the Falcons defense as he was one of the team’s defensive leaders.
Vilma is a 10-year veteran in the NFL, first entering the league as a first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2004. Vilma only appeared in one game with the Saints a year ago ago, limited by knee injury. Vilma had an arthroscopic scope on his left knee in August, but did not play for the first eight games of the 2013 season. He played a dozen snaps in the team’s Week 9 game against the Jets before landing on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. Rapoport indicates that the Falcons would bring in Vilma for a visit if they like his medical prognosis from afar. A report by ESPN’s Adam Schefter in late May indicated that Vilma was “healthy and ready” to play this year after his knee issue.
Vilma, 32, played in 11 games in 2012 for the Saints, starting 10 of them at weak-side linebacker. He was again limited by knee injury and a league-mandated suspension due to BountyGate, but managed to recorded 37 tackles, one sack and one interception. Degenerative knee condition has plagued Vilma throughout his career, causing him to exit New York back in 2007 after being limited to just seven games that year. But he had three good years with the Saints from 2008-10 before the knee became a problem again in 2011. Vilma’s left knee has undergone surgery four times since November 2011.
Angerer, 27, himself is facing injury concerns as well, as he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve due to microfracture knee surgery. Angerer was reportedly a few months away from being able to work out for NFL teams per FOX Sports’ Alex Marvez in April.
Angerer also missed time in 2011 due to foot and knee injuries. He was limited last summer by those same foot problems, and then missed the season opener in 2013 due to a concussion. That was followed up by more knee problems, which ended his season in Week 15 with the Indianapolis Colts. Angerer finished with 63 tackles, 0.5 sacks and an interception in 11 games with nine starts. He was originally a second-round pick of the Colts in 2010, starting at both middle linebacker in their 4-3 and inside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme.
Harrison, 36, is coming off a lackluster season in Cincinnati after a very productive career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 15 games with the Bengals, he had 30 tackles, two sacks and an interception playing mostly outside linebacker. Harrison earned five trips to the Pro Bowl during the decade he played for the Steelers (2002-12), tallying 64 sacks in that span.
Fletcher, 39, was second on the Washington Redskins in tackles in 2013 with 111. He also had two sacks last year. Fletcher has had an extensive career in the NFL, playing for the Redskins (since 2007), Buffalo Bills (2002-06) and St. Louis Rams (1998-01). Fletcher is a four-time Pro Bowler that has started 239 consecutive games and appeared in 256 without missing time due to injury. He was originally an undrafted free agent out of John Carroll in 1998 with the Rams, helping them to two Super Bowl appearances.
Per Rapoport, the Falcons are also considering internal options like Paul Worrilow and Joplo Bartu to replace Weatherspoon, as well as fourth-round pick Prince Shembo, who Rapoport calls “impressive and versatile.” Shembo played primarily defensive end and outside linebacker at Notre Dame, but will be converted to inside linebacker with the Falcons in their hybrid 3-4 scheme.