The Atlanta Falcons hoped to get bigger and tougher on defense through free agency and the 2014 draft, but they lost a key cog in that effort for the entire season on Tuesday. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, the team's first-round pick in 2010, suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during the team's practice. The injury will cause Weatherspoon to miss the 2014 campaign.
"We sent Sean to the doctor for some additional testing and evaluation and unfortunately the results showed that he ruptured his Achilles tendon," coach Mike Smith said in a team statement. "Sean had been working extremely hard to get back on the field, but regrettably he will miss the entire 2014 season. He will have a procedure done in the near future and we expect him to make a full recovery."
Weatherspoon has been a real difference-maker for the Falcons when healthy, but that hasn't been too often of late -- he was placed on the short-term injury list in 2013 after he suffered a Lisfranc (foot) injury in Week 2. He also suffered a knee injury, which ended his season after just seven games, and he had been limited in the team's current OTAs as he was recovering from the knee injury. Weatherspoon was on the side of the field, working with team staff, when the injury occurred.
Weatherspoon has played all 16 games in just one NFL season -- 2011 -- and has started 41 of a possible 64 regular-season games. In that season, he had 86 tackles and eight passes defensed. In 2013, he amassed 26 tackles and a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown. But according to Pro Football Focus' charting, he also missed 11 tackles, and allowed 198 passing yards on 23 catches and 33 targets.
Weatherspoon is in the last year of the $14 million rookie contract he signed in July, 2010. He'll be 27 years old on Dec. 29, and his future in the NFL doesn't look too bright. As for the Falcons, who will hope to use a lot of sub packages and 3-4 concepts in their defense this season, they'll have to split the reps meant for Weatherspoon among several options -- Akeem Dent, Joplo Bartu, Paul Worrilow are the veterans, and Prince Shembo, Yawin Smallwood and Marquis Spruill might get time as rookies. But it's a big setback for a team that is desperately looking to rebound from last season's 4-12 finish.