Although Lofton was a team captain who ranked fourth in the NFL with 144 tackles last year, the Saints didn’t feel the value was right as he was due $7.25 million in salary and bonuses this year.
Payton’s description of how the decision played out was reminiscent of the way Payton explained that the Saints decided they had to part ways with one of their expensive guards (ultimately trading Ben Grubbs to the Kansas City Chiefs).
Payton made it sound like Lofton, 28, balked at the idea of taking a pay cut. Meanwhile, fellow veteran linebacker David Hawthorne agreed to a pay cut to $3.25 million in salary and bonuses this year, and veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe agreed to a new, reduced contract as part of the Saints’ trade with the Miami Dolphins. Since Miami is eating some of the money, Ellerbe’s deal will cost the Saints only $1.2 million this year and a total of $11.6 million over three years.
Hawthorne will slide over to Lofton’s middle “mike” linebacker spot, while Ellerbe will play the other inside “will” linebacker position.
“I think overall, there were a few players we knew from a numbers standpoint, there was going to have to be something done,” Payton said during the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. “It’s hard. Every offseason at some point your boss calls you in and says, ‘Look, we feel like you need to improve in this area, this area and this area. And you need to be better here, here and here. And by the way, we want to pay you 70 percent of what you made last year.’
“Essentially, to some degree, the market fluctuates within our game with contracts. We felt like an inside linebacker was going to be someone we definitely had as a ‘must.’ We didn’t know if it would be a mike or a will. I do feel like Dannell Ellerbe has played both and has that flexibility.
“With Curtis, there was obviously ‘X’ amount of dollars due to be made. We felt that was going to be the best way to go.”
Lofton, meanwhile, made out just fine by signing a three-year, $18 million deal with the Oakland Raiders that includes a guaranteed $6.5 million this year and $10 million in total guarantees.
Payton also referenced other Saints players that signed elsewhere during his hour-long interview session with the media:
Although the Saints decided not to tender restricted free agent running back Travaris Cadet (which would have cost $1.54 million), Payton said the Saints would have wanted him back if they had not signed free agent runner/receiver C.J. Spiller instead. Cadet wound up signing with the New England Patriots. ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss shared more of Payton’s thoughts on Cadet here.
Payton was asked several times about defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, another non-tendered restricted free agent, who wound up signing with the Detroit Lions. Payton kept repeating how much he liked Walker’s versatility and intelligence, calling him “one of the smartest guys in that room” and describing him as “the guy you want to sit next to on the English exam.” Payton also cited financial reasons for letting Walker go. But when asked about him for the third time, he joked, “I’m starting to miss him now. I’m starting to think, ‘Why’d we let him out of the building?’”
Payton didn’t specify why the Saints decided to let cornerback Patrick Robinson get away in free agency, where he signed with the San Diego Chargers. But he spoke glowingly about the former first-round draft pick. “He can run. He’s got long arms. He was hampered with some injuries throughout his career. I’m a huge Patrick Robinson fan, though. He’s a great person," Payton said. "I’m anxious to see how he does. And I think all of us are pulling for a guy like him.”