The New Orleans Saints have taken some major hits the past few days with the penalties for their bounty program, and they are facing a very tight salary-cap situation. The team announced very late Saturday night it has signed Atlanta free-agent linebacker Curtis Lofton to a five-year deal.
This is a major victory for the Saints because Atlanta was interested in bringing Lofton back and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were also in the mix to some degree. The terms of Lofton’s contract are not immediately known, but it’s safe to say he got a good bit less than the $42 million for the same term given to Cleveland’s D'Qwell Jackson. Lofton tested free agency and appeared, at first, to want something close to what Jackson got, but didn’t seem to get any offers in that price range.
Lofton has been Atlanta’s middle linebacker the past four seasons and the Falcons apparently had some interest in keeping him. But new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has hinted he doesn’t view Lofton as an every-down player due to limitations in pass coverage.
The Saints apparently don’t view that as a large obstacle in the defense being installed by new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. This looks like a move to replace Jonathan Vilma at middle linebacker. Vilma is aging, coming off knee surgery and has a high salary-cap figure. At 26, Lofton is three years younger, has natural leadership abilities and should add stability to a linebacker corps going through major change.
Lofton could step in as the immediate starter. His arrival could allow the Saint to free up salary-cap room by releasing Vilma or restructuring his contract. Vilma also could face a suspension: His name has surfaced in connection with the bounty program and there has been speculation he could be suspended for much of the season – maybe all of it.
Whatever happens with Vilma, Lofton is a substantial upgrade for the Saints' linebacking corps.