Their safety net at that position is gone. Coach Mike Smith said Tuesday that veteran Lofa Tatupu, who was viewed as a possible replacement for Lofton, will miss the season after suffering a pectoral injury.
That leaves second-year pro Akeem Dent as the starting middle linebacker as the Falcons prepare to open training camp. Obviously, it’s not ideal to lose any player to injury, but I don’t think this one is particularly devastating to the Falcons. As soon as they heard Lofton’s initial asking price in free agency, I think the Falcons realized they might have to go in a different direction. Lofton’s chances of getting anything close to that kind of money from the Falcons decreased because new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan was coming in at the same time. Nolan wanted quicker bodies on the field in passing situations and that made Lofton one dimensional.
The Falcons went out and signed Tatupu as injury. But he came with some risk. Tatupu had spent his career in Seattle, but sat out last year.
At best, Tatupu would have been a short-term fix until Dent fully convinced the coaching staff he was ready to be the starter. Sure, the Falcons could go out and pick up someone with experience, but what are you really going to find this time of year? I say, throw Dent out there and see what he’s got. With a full camp as the starter, the coaches should be able to get him ready.
It’s kind of ironic because right about the same time Smith was announcing Tatupu will miss the season, New Orleans interim coach Joe Vitt was singing Lofton’s praises to the local media.
“What a great, pleasant surprise this player's been. He's just been outstanding," Vitt said.
I find it hard to believe Lofton’s a surprise. The Saints knew he was pretty good when they signed him. The Falcons also thought Lofton was a good player, but they didn’t want to pay him big money.
There’s no winner on this deal yet. How Lofton and Dent play this season will determine whether the Falcons made the right move.