Falcons plug defense, sign Milloy to 3-year, $6M deal

ATLANTA -- In a move that addresses the Atlanta Falcons' most glaring defensive shortcoming, the team on Friday reached an agreement with unrestricted free-agent safety Lawyer Milloy, who was released by the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago for salary cap reasons.

Milloy, 32, will sign a three-year contract, worth $6.01 million, with a signing bonus of $2.5 million and salaries of $810,000, $1 million, and $1.7 million, according to agent Carl Poston, ESPN.com's Michael Smith reports.

The 10-year veteran visited with Falcons coaches and team officials earlier this week and dined with owner Arthur Blank at a local steakhouse, usually a tip-off that Atlanta is serious about pursuing a player. Milloy had also visited with the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks.

Atlanta had made no pretense about dramatically overhauling a safety contingent that arguably ranked as one of the NFL's worst in 2005. Even with the addition of Milloy, the Falcons likely will still use a high-round draft pick to acquire a safety, one who might even have a chance to start as a rookie. Coach Jim Mora indicated at the conclusion of the '05 season that the Falcons would probably sign a veteran in free agency and also add a younger safety as well.

The Atlanta starting safeties combined for just three interceptions in 2005 and totaled just five "big plays" -- a combination of interceptions, sacks, fumbles forced and fumbles recovered. In fact, over the last three seasons, the Falcons' safeties averaged fewer than six "big plays" per year. Contributing to the problem in 2005 was that the starters, Keion Carpenter and Bryan Scott, also tackled poorly.

In hindsight, the Falcons' brass probably erred last spring in its approach to the longtime safety woes, eschewing higher-priced veterans at the position and instead concentrating on stop-gap players. Adding a player the caliber of Milloy, a heady veteran and a high-character guy, should benefit the Falcons both on and off the field.

That said, Milloy, certainly in the past few years, hasn't authored many game-altering plays. He has just three interceptions in the past four seasons and, while his resume includes 22 pickoffs, Milloy has had more than three interceptions in a season just once in his career, when he garnered six in 1998. Still, he is a steadying force on a defense, and a very good tackler, both commodities the Falcons need at safety.

The former University of Washington standout was a second-round pick of the New England Patriots in the 1996 draft. He was released by New England in 2003, after he rejected a salary reduction, and signed with the Buffalo Bills. He has 1,035 tackles in his career, including seven seasons with 100 tackles or more, and 15 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and 70 passes defensed.

Milloy has missed just five of a possible 160 regular-season contests in his career.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. ESPN.com senior writer Michael Smith contributed to this report.