Why the Falcons let Curtis Lofton go

Three games into the season, I think it’s become obvious why the Atlanta Falcons didn’t re-sign middle linebacker Curtis Lofton to a big-money contract.

There was no sense paying him a high salary if they weren’t going to use him in the new defensive scheme of coordinator Mike Nolan. I just went back through play-time counts for the first three games and it’s quite obvious the Falcons aren’t using a middle linebacker much at all.

Second-year pro Akeem Dent is in Lofton’s old position in the middle, but the Falcons are barely using him. Instead, they’re keeping outside linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Stephen Nicholas on the field all the time and using three cornerbacks almost all the time.

Let’s take a run through each game. In the season opener at Kansas City, Dent was on the field for 16 of Atlanta’s 69 defensive plays (11 percent). Weatherspoon and Nicholas participated in every play. Cornerback Asante Samuel also took part in every play. Cornerback Dunta Robinson was on the field 84 percent of the time and cornerback Brent Grimes was in for 75 percent of the plays before suffering a season-ending injury.

In Week 2 against Denver, Dent played only one of Atlanta’s 73 defensive plays (1 percent). Nicholas, Weatherspoon and Robinson each played every play. Samuel, who briefly was banged up) was on the field for 97 percent of the plays. In that game, Chris Owens took over as the nickel back, but suffered a concussion early in the game. Dominique Franks took his place and participated in 82 percent of the plays.

In Week 3 at San Diego, Dent got his most extensive playing time, but it still wasn’t a lot. Dent was on the field for 20 of Atlanta’s 56 defensive plays (36 percent). Nicholas, Weatherspoon, Samuel and Robinson took part in every defensive play. Franks was on the field for 64 percent of the defensive plays.

In fairness to Lofton, I just looked at New Orleans’ play counts for the first three games of the season. Lofton has participated in every defensive play.

That’s proof that Lofton can be a three-down linebacker -- in the right system. The Saints are paying him an average of $5.5 million a season. He wasn’t going to be an every-down linebacker in Atlanta anymore, so there was no sense in the Falcons paying him big money to be a part-time player.