First of all there is no doubting Curtis Lofton has talent. However that also means that he won't be cheap. Atlanta has signed Lofa Tatupu to a two year contract and they also have promising youngster Akeem Dent coming through which means that Curtis will likely be playing for a new team in 2012.
Lofton is 25, durable and coming off a 147 tackle season where he also forced a fumble, registered a sack and brought in two interceptions. Rumblings from Atlanta suggest that Mike Nolan isn't comfortable playing Lofton as a 3 down linebacker due to concerns about his ability in coverage. There are no doubts about Lofton's run stopping ability however and he is a great great tackler.
Lofton is a young guy with a lot of upside and he looked to be more comfortable in coverage in 2011 than any previous year. He registered 7 pass defences and two interceptions. His highest totals before this were 3 and 1 respectively that came in 2010. He'll be starting his 5th year in the league in 2012 and I fully expect him to continue the trend towards becoming one of the better inside linebackers in the NFL.
Where is the market? Well Cleveland recently signed inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson to a five year deal worth $42.5 million with $19 million in guarantees. D'Qwell had similar numbers to Lofton, just a little bit more productive. However D'Qwell is also 3 years Loftons senior. I think that when the dust settles, Lofton will get a very similar deal, a 5 year contract around the $40 million mark and $17-$20 million guaranteed.
The Jets already have David Harris tied up with a 4 year $36 million contract which contains $29.5 million in guarantees. A record amount guaranteed for an inside linebacker on a 4 year deal. I fully expect a team like Tampa Bay who are in desperate need for a leader and inside linebacker on defence to pony up that $40 mill with $20 mill guaranteed. A contract we just can't match with the other needs we have on this defence.
Lofton played in 95%,95% and 99% of defensive snaps the last three years, he's a three down linebacker in my opinion. To have Harris and Lofton together would be fantastic, it would be the elite middle pairing in the NFL. However I just can't see it being practical with our cap situation and already having almost $30 million guaranteed at the position for one guy.
I think he goes to Tampa Bay and I also think he grows into one of the elite guys in the league too.