There is still no guarantee that middle linebacker Curtis Lofton will return to the Atlanta Falcons, but team officials feel better about the possibilities, given what has transpired lately in unrestricted free agency.
For openers, the market for 4-3 middle linebackers hasn't developed, as accentuated by the five-year, $25.5 million contract with which Stephen Tulloch returned to the Detroit Lions this week. Tulloch was regarded in the unrestricted pool as at least the equal of Lofton, maybe better in the eyes of some scouts, and generated only modest interest outside of the Detroit organization.
Like Lofton, he was eyeing the misguided five-year, $42.5 million deal that Cleveland reportedly awarded D'Qwell Jackson to return, and fell far short of that target. Lofton has drawn interest from division rivals Tampa Bay and New Orleans. But a Bucs official told The Sports Xchange that reports in Atlanta that Lofton holds an offer from the Bucs are only "technically true," and that the ardor for the four-year veteran has cooled a bit in the building.
The Saints, who visited with Lofton, could pursue him, especially if incumbent Jonathan Vilma is suspended by the league for his role in the Bountygate scandal. But New Orleans is up against the cap following the addition of defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, and would have a difficult time finding space to pigeonhole Lofton as well.
Although his representatives have disagreed, we've taken the stance that Lofton is a two-down run-stuffer who doesn't belong on the field on third down, even though the Falcons use him in nickel packages, and that his value is blunted because of that. Teams from around the league seem to agree, haven't exactly opened up the vault yet for Lofton, and that provides Falcons coaches and team officials renewed hope he could be back.
ABRAHAM'S CONTRACT FAR SHORT OF HIS TARGET
The other positive for the Falcons is that defensive end John Abraham, the club's lone outside sack threat and a player club officials seemed to regard as an even bigger priority than Lofton, found no market in his publicly announced price range and ended up signing a three-year deal that was very palatable to the team.
The 33-year-old Abraham announced that he was seeking a contract worth $12 million per year as an unrestricted free agent. He tentatively set up visits with Tennessee and Denver, then quickly discovered that neither the Titans nor Broncos would be in his financial ball park.
The result: He hustled back to the Falcons on a three-year contract that was purported to be worth $21 million. Alas, typical of the agency that represents Abraham - and which has long made a habit of inflating the contract numbers - the deal is far less.
We don't have all the details, so perhaps, with all of the escalators, the contract can max out of $7 million per year. Even if it does, that's far short of the $12 million annually Abraham was seeking. The "base" deal, minus escalators, though, is worth only about $5.6 million per year. The signing bonus is a modest $2.25 million and another $2.156 million per year comes in the form of two roster bonuses, one of which is tied to appearances by the oft-injured Abraham