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Falcons quiet to begin NFL free agency

ATLANTA -- The Falcons are still waiting to make their customary offseason splash.

With NFL free agency in its third day, Atlanta has yet to play its hand -- a different approach for a team that added Michael Turner, Tony Gonzalez, Dunta Robinson, Julio Jones and Ray Edwards in each of the last four years.

This offseason seems different, though, with Atlanta lacking a first-round draft pick and its budget tight against the league's salary cap as general manager Thomas Dimitroff tries to fill starting jobs at linebacker and on the offensive and defensive lines.

The uncertainty has caused the Falcons to let three starters -- middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, right end John Abraham and center Todd McClure -- test the open market.

Atlanta used its franchise tag to keep cornerback Brent Grimes from leaving, but the potential loss of Lofton and Abraham would leave big holes in a defense that's getting retooled by new coordinator Mike Nolan.

Lofton was being courted by the Philadelphia Eagles and NFC South rival Tampa Bay. Abraham had a trip planned to meet the Tennessee Titans.

"No updates right now," Lofton wrote in a text message Thursday to The Associated Press. "Hope to know something pretty soon, but not rushed to get something done fast."

Abraham's agent, Rich Rosa, did not immediately return phone calls asking about the status of his client.

Abraham said recently in an Atlanta radio interview that he was seeking a minimum $12 million salary. The 33-year-old Abraham, a four-time Pro Bowl pick who's spent the last six seasons with Atlanta, has 112 sacks since the start of 2000, most among active players.

McClure, 35, said late last season that he might retire instead of return for a 14th season. The Falcons, who have hired a new offensive coordinator in Dirk Koetter and a new line coach in Pat Hill, have yet to indicate if they will replace the center, left tackle and right guard spots with other players.

The offensive line needs an upgrade after losing its edge in 2011, when quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked a career-high 26 times and the rushing attack dropped to five spots to No. 17 in the NFL.

Since free agency began Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta has made three official moves, re-signing No. 2 quarterback Chris Redman and No. 3 receiver Harry Douglas and making a contract tender offer to reserve defensive tackle Vance Walker.

Last week, the Falcons re-signed one starter, free safety Thomas DeCoud, and No. 3 defensive end Kroy Biermann. They assured that three reserves, running back Jason Snelling, tight end Michael Palmer and running back Antone Smith, will return next season, and added two NFL veterans in linebacker Lofa Tatupu and offensive guard Vince Manuwai who did not play in 2011.

Eric Weems, a former Pro Bowl return specialist and reserve wideout, left Atlanta to sign with Chicago.

There are several options in the market that the Falcons could pursue at left tackle -- Marcus McNeill San Diego), Levi Brown (Arizona), Demetrius Bell (Buffalo) and Anthony Collins (Cincinnati) -- and at guard -- Evan Mathis (Philadelphia) and Chilo Rachal (San Francisco).

Available centers are Scott Wells (Green Bay), Chris Myers (Houston), Samson Satele (Oakland), Jason Brown (St. Louis).

Buffalo's signing Thursday of Mario Williams, the No. 2 overall NFL free agent behind quarterback Peyton Manning, means the Falcons either need to find a way to keep Abraham or try another alternative.

Mark Anderson (New England), Kendall Langford (Miami), Andre Carter (New England), Matt Roth (Jacksonville) and Luis Castillo (San Diego) are possibilities.

If the Falcons want to re-sign Lofton, their defensive captain won't come cheaply after Cleveland and San Francisco helped set the market for starting linebackers returning to their teams. The Browns guaranteed D'Qwell Jackson $19 million as part of five-year deal, and Ahmad Brooks received $17.5 million guaranteed from the 49ers as part of a six-year contract.

Lofton has not missed a game and has made 47 starts since Atlanta drafted him in the second round of 2008.

Without Lofton, the Falcons likely would start second-year linebacker Akeem Dent, a third-round pick last year from Georgia, at middle linebacker. Tatupu would be the backup.