In the first couple weeks of free agency, we’ve seen some big moves; Mario Williams to the Bills, the Peyton Manning Sweepstakes, the Tim Tebow trade (all three), and Kansas City, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay all signing several players that will have an immediate impact on their teams.
All of it, especially the first three, has been in the media. One free agency move has not gotten the attention of the others, mainly because the national media has been focused on Tebowmania for most of last week. Now that the smoke is cleared for most of us and New York is mainly dealing with the fall out of bringing in Tebow, I woke up with a strange feeling about the signing of Curtis Lofton with the Saints.
Curtis Lofton started 63 of 64 games for the Atlanta Falcons, and recorded 147 tackles in 2011. One would think the Falcons wanted to re-sign their leading tackler since 2009, but reports out of Atlanta were that new DC Mike Nolan viewed Lofton as a two-down player in 2012 due to limitations in his pass coverage. The Falcons allowed Lofton to test the free agency waters, while remaining successful in re-signing the league’s active sack leader John Abraham (112 sacks since 2000).
In the early days of free agency the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actively pursued Lofton, but after signing Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks, and Eric Wright, it was thought Tampa Bay would back off their pursuit. Ira Kauffman ( Tampa Tribune) countered that assumption when he tweeted on March 20th, “Don’t think for a second the Bucs have lost interest in Curtis Lofton. They want him at their price, but make no mistake – they want him.”
Len Pasquarelli of CBSSports.com wrote Friday that Atlanta could still be in the mix, and reports Lofton held a standing offer from the Bucs was “only ‘technically true,’ and that the ardor for the four-year veteran has cooled a bit in the building”.
Despite the “standing offer” from Tampa Bay, and the possibility of re-signing with the Falcons, Curtis Lofton signed a 5 year deal with New Orleans Saints.
There are a few factors that make this interesting to me. First, it’s no secret the Saints have a tight cap space and they already have a pretty good MLB in Jonathan Vilma. However, to be fair the fate of Vilma is in question due to his alleged involvement in “BountyGate”.
Early Monday morning, Lofton was quoted on Nola.com as saying “One thing about me, I don’t have an ego, and I know Jonathan doesn’t have an ego,” said Lofton, who spoke with Vilma on Sunday morning and shared their mutual excitement for the new alliance. “When I was on my visit, they asked, ‘Are you just set on playing middle?’ And I said, ‘No, what I’m set on is winning games and winning championships.’ And Vilma said the same thing. We both just said we want to win. And he said he’s just glad they’re bringing in playmakers who can help us win.”
Seems like the standard response for a player who just signed with a new team, right? Let me highlight the part of the quote that stood out to me: ‘No, what I’m set on is winning games and winning championships.’
Ordinarily, I would chalk this up to logical responses from a player who just signed a big contract with a new team, except for one huge glaring difference: this team is not your average new team. This isn’t Buffalo or Denver; this is a team crippled with punishment from the NFL for their bounty “scandal”.
This is a team who will be without their Super Bowl-winning head coach Sean Payton next year, who is undoubtedly one of the biggest selling points for any player looking to sign with New Orleans. This is a team whose general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended for the first eight regular-season games next season. This is a team whose assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt received a six-game penalty. This is a franchise who was fined $500,000 and who lost second round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
“Winning games and winning championships”.
If Mario Williams, Peyton Manning, or Tim Tebow said this, I’d drink the Kool-Aid. Curtis Lofton saying this? Not so much.
As someone who is the first to say “The NFL is a business”, I have no problem with Lofton wanting to go to the highest bidder. What doesn’t sit well with me is that he said what he cared about was “winning games and winning championships”. Maybe I’m reading too deep into this. Maybe no one else takes exception to this aside from maybe- oh, I don’t know – Bucs fans who actually feel that the best chance for winning games and winning championships would happen in Tampa.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all for paying players. I believe Matt Forte should get his deal from Chicago. I was one of the few who didn’t fault Chris Johnson for holding out last year. If Drew Brees is unhappy with getting hit with a franchise tag, I don’t blame him one bit. But as far as Lofton, just say it: “I wanted to get paid and neither Atlanta nor Tampa Bay was willing to give me what I wanted”. Don’t hide behind “winning games and winning championships”.
The NFL is a “what have you done for me now” league. I just don’t see how with the heavy penalties levied against New Orleans, winning games let alone winning championships is remotely possible. Not next year, and probably not in 2013.
It may be harsh, but it’s reality.
Am I looking at the 2012 Buccaneers with rose colored glasses? Probably. But I’d rather take my chances on a team with a new staff and an organization who is (seemingly) doing everything right than a franchise with interim coaches and is hanging on by a string – at least in the short term.
Instead of hoping I avoid any major injuries over the next couple seasons so that I can see what I “want” come to fruition in New Orleans, I’d be getting picked up immediately from Tampa International Airport by Greg Schiano. That is, if all I cared about was winning games and winning championships. Oh, and I’d still have a pretty nice paycheck to cash once I got there.