Despite earlier word that re-signing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon was a top priority for the Atlanta Falcons, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported early Saturday that his departure from Atlanta is likely. Later reports from Yahoo! Sports’ Rand Getlin indicated that the Arizona Cardinals appear to be Spoon’s top suitor.
While Weatherspoon won’t become an unrestricted free agent until Tuesday, March 10 at 4 p.m. Eastern, earlier today at noon the league started it’s “legal tampering period” which allows teams, players and their agents to seek “negotiation positions” well ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, when agreements can become official.
Until the move is official, one can only speculate as to what has driven a wedge between the Falcons and Weatherspoon when all indications are that both parties have been amenable to a deal. But one obvious potential obstacle is money. Given Spoon’s recent rash of injuries, it’s unlikely that the Falcons were willing to go over a certain price point for a player that has missed a combined 33 games over five years. At the outset of parties being able to estimate their market value via the tampering period implies that Weatherspoon could potentially receive more on the open market than what the Falcons are willing to offer.
Given that Rapoport indicated that Weatherspoon will hit the open market, any chance of a deal between the Falcons and the impending free-agent linebacker getting done before Tuesday’s deadline appear to be over, thus throwing more fuel on the fire that money is the biggest obstacle.
Weatherspoon, 27, was drafted by the Falcons with the 19th overall selection in 2010 out of Missouri. As a rookie, Spoon missed five games due to a knee injury and earned five starts at outside linebacker. He finished the year with 42 tackles and a sack. He assumed a starting position the following year, starting all 16 games for the only time in his career. He produced his best season, recording a career-high 113 tackles and four sacks. He also was among the highest graded outside linebackers by premium website Pro Football Focus that season.
Spoon’s production dipped in 2012 thanks in part to missing three games due to an ankle injury as well as a change in defensive scheme. He finished the year with 95 tackles and three sacks, but also recorded his first career interception and forced fumble.
He had arthroscopic surgery on his knee the following offseason and missed all of organized team activities. He would return in training camp, but a dislocated finger caused him to miss all but one preseason game. Following that, he went down with a foot injury in the Falcons’ Week 2 win over the St. Louis Rams, spending the next eight weeks on short-term injured reserve. Even upon his return, Spoon again failed to stay healthy, missing the final two games of 2013 with a knee injury. He finished 2013 starting seven games with 38 tackles and a pick-six.
Weatherspoon was set to return better than ever in 2014, but suffered a torn Achilles in June and missed the entire season. The Falcons defense subsequently felt his absence, finishing as the worst in the league.