The Saints have released linebacker Curtis Lofton, it has been confirmed.
Let's try this again. Curtis Lofton is being released, he confirmed.— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) March 9, 2015
Lofton's release comes two years left on his contract, and he had a $4.5 million roster bonus due in addition to his $9.5 million cap hit. It's glaringly obvious that this is purely a financial decision, as his play wasn't really showing signs of deteriorating. Lofton's play against the run was his strongest suit, and for a defense that as a unit struggled against the run in 2014, this cut certainly comes at an inopportune time.
Some are speculating whether the savings by cutting Curtis Lofton might be mitigated by using the June 1st designation. The Saints need cap dollars, so I would expect it to be an immediate release rather than the June 1st designation. The release of Lofton brings $4.25 million in cap space. The only reason to go with the June 1st designation would be so the "lost dollars" hit of $5 million could be spread out over 2 years.
The ILBer has been a favorite of some, and others have complained about his play. Particularly last year Curtis didn't grade highly at the position.
Despite having 2X the number of tackles as the next best player on D, Lofton was the lowest graded player we had. pic.twitter.com/LcavXPQqEq— Bodhisattva (@TheToddNewberg) March 9, 2015
Lofton was never the type of linebacker to put up mind-boggling stats from the ILB position, but he was a solid figurehead, especially in a defense that struggled with injuries. He also became a fan favorite for being a solid player plucked from the Falcons. A highly intelligent linebacker, Lofton's cut comes amongst speculation that the Saints may be looking at another former Falcon, Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon played OLB in the 4-3 defense, so it would be interesting to see how New Orleans utilized him (theoretically of course, as this is speculation).
In his three seasons for the Saints, Lofton totaled 264 solo tackes, and 403 total tackles. He never had less than 100 tackles in single season. Interestingly, Lofton never had an interception as a Saint, despite being passable in coverage (although this is relative to the rest of the NO defense). He also forced 4 fumbles and recovered 3.
This cut raises a lot of questions about the Saints' linebacker situation heading into 2015. Many thought that David Hawthorne would be the ILB being replaced, but this seems to no longer be the case. This makes the ILB position a top priority for the Saints. It will be interesting to see if they try to completely revamp the position inside and find someone to replace Hawthorne, or simply draft a player to replace Lofton and hope that he holds up. The position certainly can't be ignored.
The Saints must have a plan to address the position either in the draft or free agency. They have been reported to be kicking the tires on a few players, but unlike many of the teams the Saints have played things close to the vest. The draft is also pretty deep at the linebacker position as well, and I think that the team has several set up on their draft board already.
Free agency begins tomorrow at 4:00 PM. Look for the Saints to make a move for a linebacker. If they can't, ILB becomes priority #1 in the 2015 draft.