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Sean Weatherspoon's return gives Falcons depth at linebacker

Former Atlanta Falcons first-round draft pick Sean Weatherspoon said he wanted a chance to revive his career inside the Georgia Dome.

He'll get that opportunity.

Weatherspoon told ESPN.com late Thursday night that he verbally agreed to a one-year deal to return to Atlanta after signing a one-year deal with the Arizona Cardinals last season. Weatherspoon, who dined with coach Dan Quinn, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, and others Thursday, said he plans to make the signing official Friday morning.

So what does Weatherspoon's return mean? Well, the Falcons have a shortage at inside linebacker with middle linebacker Paul Worrilow, who will sign his restricted free-agent tender next week (one-year, $2.553 million), the only inside linebacker in the fold. The Falcons need a weakside linebacker to replace Justin Durant, who was released because of injury concerns. Plus they need depth at the position, period.

Weatherspoon didn't start one game with the Cardinals last season and had just 11 tackles in limited duty. The Falcons were hesitant to pay him much because of his injury history. He might have to embrace a reduced role and maybe even play special teams if the Falcons continue to add younger or faster linebackers.

The Falcons have inquired about former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who remains a free agent. It is unclear at this moment how much the Falcons would be willing to pay Freeman.

The Falcons entered free agency with about $24 million in salary-cap space. The signings of center Alex Mack ($4,050,000 cap number), wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($2,400,000), and Adrian Clayborn ($3,000,000) ate up $9,450,000. The contract for defensive end Derrick Shelby isn't completely available yet, but should account for another $2,000,000 in cap space for 2016. And the cap numbers for quarterback Matt Schaub and Weatherspoon shouldn't signify significant cap hits. The minimum base salary for a player with Schaub's experience is $985,000, and the minimum for Weatherspoon would be $760,000.

That being said, we'll see how the Falcons proceed through the rest of free agency, with former Los Angeles Rams Chris Long and James Laurinaitis still under consideration, Freeman apparently in the mix, and needs remaining at strong safety and guard. The Falcons likely will re-sign a few of their own free agents, such as kicker Shayne Graham, linebacker Philip Wheeler, or perhaps defensive end Kroy Biermann.