Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 3/27/12
With the news on Wednesday that veteran center Todd McClure had agreed to terms, the Atlanta Falcons continue to make steady progress in free agency minus at least one key player. Judging by general manager Thomas Dimitroffs rough estimate in January that the team would be able to retain eight of its free agents, the Falcons have exceeded expectations by that measure. McClure is the eighth to return to Atlanta, following in the steps of defensive end Kroy Biermann, starting safety Thomas DeCoud, running back Jason Snelling, back-up quarterback Chris Redman, No. 3 wide receiver Harry Douglas, starting defensive end John Abraham and long snapper Joe Zelenka. The Falcons also tagged starting left cornerback Brent Grimes as their franchise player, securing his rights. Grimes agent has told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the player would not sign the tender, nonetheless, the Falcons are hopeful that they can sign Grimes to a long-term contract, as they continue to try and improve upon a group that has made the playoffs three of the last four seasons yet failed to win a playoff game. On Saturday, the Falcons lost starting middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, their leading tackler the last few seasons, to the teams arch-rival, New Orleans. The Falcons had seemed to prepare for the loss of Lofton, 25. Last season, they drafted linebacker Akeem Dent out of Georgia in the third round and on March 10 they signed free agent Lofa Tatupu, a three-time Pro-Bowler and All-Pro in 2007. Tatupu did not play last season, reportedly because of a knee injury. Dent and Tatupu are likely to battle it out for the starting job. Two factors helped to spell the end of Loftons tenure in Atlanta. The first was that the Falcons did not have much in the way of salary cap space to afford what he could command on the open market. Loftons five-year deal reportedly is worth 30 million. By bringing back Abraham, whose salary cap figure is 4.4 million this season, according to ESPN.com, and franchising Grimes to the tune of 10 million for one season, the Falcons could not offer Lofton that kind of deal. Evidently, they prioritized Grimes and the pass-rushing Abraham at a lower price over Lofton. The second factor was the whispers that came out of Flowery Branch that Lofton was not a three-down linebacker and that he was not good enough in pass coverage. This could be part of the evaluation process that the Falcons talked about in bringing in new coordinators. Perhaps new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan felt that Lofton would not fit in his schemes in pass coverage. Nolan already has talked about how he thinks the future of NFL defenses could involve a lot more use of five defensive backs, as the league is becoming more pass-oriented. In that sense, it would not make sense to offer Lofton too much money. There is further evidence that the Falcons evaluations were not so high on Lofton. In an interview on Monday with the teams flagship radio station, 790 The Zone, Lofton might have inadvertently revealed this fact. He said the Falcons rate players in four categories: average, above average, superior and elite. He said the Falcons rated him as above average. Euphemisms aside, that is still the second-lowest rating of the four. Nonetheless, while mostly taking the high road, Lofton scoffed at the idea that he was not a three-down linebacker. He said in his final three seasons, he played 95, 95 and 99 percent of the snaps on defense. Yet what he failed to add is that the Falcons never finished above 20th in the league in pass defense in any of those seasons. That kind of makes me laugh, he said on the radio. I mean, as much you dont want to take things personal, you want to set emotions aside. Yeah, there is a little bit of that. He pointed out that he never missed a game and did everything that was asked of him. This is what you do? he said. It kind of leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Then he observed that the NFL is a business and said he was excited to join the Saints. On the offensive side of the ball, the return of McClure could mean that the change on the line is not as radical as it could have been. McClure has started 157 of the last 160 games at center for the Falcons and has represented a source of stability during the teams success. At 35, his greatest contributions might be more mental and intangible recognizing defenses and making the right blocking calls while providing leadership than physical. Having already signed Vince Manuwai -- a former Jacksonville player who did not play last season because of injury, to compete for the right guard spot -- that could have meant two new starters on the line, if McClure had left, along with a new offensive line coach in Pat Hill. That would have meant a good measure of flux for that position group to deal with. Continuity on the offensive line is often a key to success and the Falcons excelled on the line from 2008 to 2010 with the same five starters and same offensive line coach, Paul Boudreau, who was let go after the 11 season. Most of the holes created by free agency have been filled and few of the teams key free agents remain. The only ones who started last season were injury-prone nickel back Kelvin Hayden and veteran safety James Sanders. Yet in re-signing DeCoud, the Falcons appear ready to go with him and William Moore. Only a few tweaks or surprises perhaps at left tackle likely remain. The picture of the Falcons roster entering next season is nearly complete.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

The Cavaliers have one unhappy star and three options

Garrett walks out on media over Whitehead questions

D-Rose landing in Cleveland could be good for Cavs, himself

Former Penn St. K Joey Julius ‘in full recovery’ in battle with eating disorder

LeBron James slams report that he wants to fight Kyrie Irving

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Rangers would trade Yu Darvish for ‘right deal’

Report: Thunder interested in trading for Carmelo Anthony

Mayweather says he will stand ‘toe to toe’ with McGregor

Raiders to limit Marshawn Lynch's workload in 2017?

Kobe Bryant responds to if he is influencing Kyrie Irving

Andy Reid chastises Tamba Hali for social media outburst

The 'Kyrie revolts against the King' quiz

BIG3 Ref Hotline Bling: James White slams the phone down

28 MLB trade deadline deal prospects since 2000 who went on to become All-Stars

Box Score 7/25: The pressure of the trade deadline is here

The 'When George Brett went completely batty' quiz

Finding the possible Achilles' heel for baseball’s best teams

Getaway Day: A pair of aces get lost in the shuffle

Sports & Politics Intersect: Trump casts shadow over U.S. Women's Open

Best of Yardbarker: General managers take the spotlight

The 'Pay that man his money' quiz

The unexpected rise of the Connecticut Sun

The National League Wild Card is suddenly relevant again

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Yardbarker Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 'Kyrie revolts against the King' quiz

BIG3 Ref Hotline Bling: James White slams the phone down

The 'When George Brett went completely batty' quiz

Finding the possible Achilles' heel for baseball’s best teams

Getaway Day: A pair of aces get lost in the shuffle

Sports & Politics Intersect: Trump casts shadow over U.S. Women's Open

The National League Wild Card is suddenly relevant again

The 'Pay that man his money' quiz

BIG3 Week 5: Pivotal make-or-break weekend in Chicago

The 'Let's show a little love for James Jones' quiz

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker