There is no way to spin this manner into a positive light. In my eyes, the decision to not re-sign Sean Weatherspoon and Corey Peters was foolish, to say the least.
That doesn't surprise me, considering Thomas Dimitroff (influenced by Scott Pioli) signed a notable draft bust in Tyson Jackson like an above average defensive lineman. The fan base's confidence in the front office continues to decline. They need to salvage these two losses with immediate impact signings, starting at 4 p.m.
This isn't completely directed towards the front office, however. It's time to give the respect that two underrated defensive players deserve. Some may be puzzled to why Weahterspoon should be considered underrated. Based on the reception that he's gotten from many Falcon fans, it's clear that certain fans don't value him highly. You don't have to tell me about his injury history and pose simplistic questions like "why should we re-sign a player that isn't on the field"?
The reality is that Weatherspoon was the best linebacker on the roster. Brooks Reed isn't going to change that. The coaching staff desperately wanted Joplo Bartu to become Weatherspoon, yet he struggles to cover below average tight ends and misses too many open-field tackles. It doesn't help that a converted pass rusher in Prince Shembo started taking snaps from him. With the Falcons moving back to a 4-3 scheme, it was the ideal scheme for the best linebacker on their roster to prosper.
Dan Quinn and Dimitroff had spoken highly of him in interviews. Dimitroff was even quoted in saying that "we need him back in the organization to help us go to another level". That's quite a statement from the embattled general manager. A player that you make out to be a necessity isn't worth four million a year? When the defense was somewhat decent in 2011-2012, it was Weatherspoon that became the center piece of that defense. Besides John Abraham, you couldn't name a more essential player on the defense during that time period.
Weatherspoon is one of the most versatile outside linebackers in the league. While it has to be determined on how he recovers from tearing his Achilles, his range and ability to chase down running backs is unquestioned. The leadership quality can't be forgotten either. Shembo recently opened up about Weatherspoon being a big brother to him. You don't replace assets like that within one year. This debacle resembles the Brent Grimes fiasco from the off-season in 2013. We all know how Miami benefited from signing Grimes to a mere one-year five million dollar deal.
Quality linebackers don't grow on trees and now the Falcons have to either acquire or develop multiple linebackers. Whether it's Malcolm Smith, Mason Foster, or Brooks Reed, it'll be difficult to fill those shoes. You can make snarky remarks about " those players only needing to remain on the field to replace Weatherspoon". Those diluted remarks don't erase the facts about Weatherspoon's success between 2011-2012. In the end, his development into becoming a coveted free agent tells the story. Teams have recognized his versatility and Arizona was the winner in that battle.
After Ian Rapoport reported on Saturday about Weatherspoon's departure, morale couldn't have gotten much worse amongst the fan base and locker room. Atlanta's mangled defense lost one of their true leaders. Then it was reported last night that Peters was going to follow his best friend to Arizona. Another underrated player had just left in an instant. Six teams were bidding for Peters, which once again proves his worth.
An excellent run-stuffing defensive tackle that can play within three different techniques. Peters wasn't a game-changer, but his versatility was essential amongst a disorganized defensive line. With one-dimensional players like Paul Soliai and Jackson being major disappointments, the Falcons not re-signing Peters is appalling. The third-round pick from Kentucky posed a threat as a pass rusher, which was vital on third downs. While Ra'Shede Hageman has tremendous upside, he's the only defensive tackle that will be under 29 years old going into next season.
A once-formidable defensive tackle rotation will likely have to be addressed next season. Jonathan Babineaux only has two years left at most, while Soliai's upside is fairly limited at 31 years old. Peters was entering his prime and could have formed an excellent partnership with Hageman on the interior. Instead, the organization didn't want to pay him close to four million a season. After breaking out in 2013 and coming back from a torn Achilles in 2014, it's unjustifiable on why he wasn't re-signed.
Nobody knows the agenda of the front office at this point. We'll have to see what moves are made within the next few days before casting full judgement. That doesn't exclude anyone from pointing out the organization's faults in not appreciating two productive defensive players. The contracts that Arizona gave them weren't earth shattering. Both players were given contracts that productive starters deserve. Let's not forget that Atlanta is ranked in the top ten for most salary cap space. They positioned themselves to be aggressive, yet failed to secure two quality players that are entering their primes.
Peters and Weatherspoon will be dearly missed. From Peters' interception against Carolina to Weatherspoon forcing Marshawn Lynch to fumble in the NFC Divisional round, both players made several big plays in opportune times. Besides William Moore and Desmond Trufant, no other quality defensive players have developed during Dimitroff's tenure. That seems to be a telling sign on why the team has struggled so significantly over the past two seasons. Dan Quinn will need to help change that instantly for this team to be taken seriously in January.