Hitting the NFC South hot spots

Time for a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

Rick in San Diego asks what the cap hit would be if the Saints release Reggie Bush and wonders if it would be better to trade him.

Pat Yasinskas: Trading Bush really isn’t an option because the new team would have to pick up the final year of his contract, which includes an $11.8 million base salary. He currently is scheduled to cost the Saints $16 million against this year’s cap. If they release him, they still would take a $3.5 million cap hit for pro-rated bonus money, but it would be a savings of $12.5 million in cap space compared to where things currently stand.

Zac in Pfafftown, N.C., asks about the possibility of trading Jimmy Clausen and what his value might be.

PY: Nice idea and a lot of Panthers fans are wondering about trading Clausen. But really it makes no sense at this point and it’s not in their plans. Yes, the Panthers just drafted quarterback Cam Newton essentially to replace Clausen. But they still need a backup for Newton and it’s possible Clausen could be the opening-day starter if Newton is slow to pick up the playbook in training camp. There also are people within the organization who believe Clausen still has a chance to be a good NFL quarterback and was simply put in a bad spot last season. Besides, after last season, Clausen really wouldn’t have much trade value right now.

Let things play out. Clausen could play some this season and maybe he plays well and that jacks up his trade value. The Panthers could end up with a situation like the Falcons had a few years ago when they were able to get quality draft picks by trading Matt Schaub. But Clausen doesn’t have that kind of value right now and the Panthers still need him in case Newton’s not ready right away.

Matt in West Palm Beach says my column on Drew Brees never mentioned my thoughts on if he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer while my column on Tony Gonzalez was very clear that the Atlanta tight end should go in on the first ballot.

PY: I'm doing periodic looks at potential Hall of Famers from the NFC South and I started with Brees and Gonzalez. There's no set formula for this project. In fact, the approach I'll take in some upcoming installments will be far different from what you already have seen. I'm thinking about doing a combo piece where I explore the chances for veteran defensive backs Darren Sharper and Ronde Barber. I may do something similar with receivers Roddy White and Steve Smith.

The columns were written with different premises. In Brees’ case, I was only writing about his chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame and speculating ahead because he likely will be playing for at least a few more years. In Gonzalez’s case, I was arguing he should go in on the first ballot. That’s a pretty big issue in Gonzalez’s situation because voters have traditionally been reluctant to let tight ends go in on the first ballot. Shannon Sharpe had to wait until his third year of eligibility and will be inducted this summer.

But, if you’re asking for my thoughts on if Brees will go in on the first ballot, I think he’s got a real shot. But it will depend on if he can put up big numbers for at least a few more seasons and it wouldn’t hurt if the Saints win another championship or two.

Karim in Chicago asks if defensive end Ray Edwards really is worth the money many are expecting the Falcons to throw at him in free agency.

PY: If you look at Edwards’ sack totals, they’re not overwhelming. He had eight last season and 8.5 the year before that. He never got above five sacks in the first three seasons of his career. But the past two seasons showed an upward trend and Edwards is only 26. In these situations teams have to look at their system and personnel and project a guy into that and ask if they think he can thrive.

Lots of scouts around the league think Edwards can produce double-digit sacks in a season, but it’s not like he’s got the resume of a Julius Peppers. Conventional wisdom is that Edwards is the guy the Falcons will target, but we don’t know that for sure. Carolina’s Charles Johnson could be a target if the Panthers don’t re-sign him and there could be another guy or two the Falcons like.

Alex in Rochester, N.Y., wrote to say all the quarterback talk in Carolina is about Newton and Clausen. He wonders if Tony Pike is so bad that he doesn’t deserve mention.

PY: Pike was a sixth-round pick for a reason last season and it’s rare for a sixth-round pick to become anything more than a backup quarterback. I’m the first to admit Carolina had a unique situation last year because former coach John Fox was so opposed to the youth movement. He grudgingly played Clausen when he had no choice. When Clausen and Matt Moore were both out with injuries, the Panthers signed veteran Brian St. Pierre off the street and started him ahead of Pike.

The word out of Carolina was that Pike had shown no signs of progress in practice and that’s why Fox went with St. Pierre. I’m sure Pike will get a look from the new staff in training camp, but he better show something. Clausen and Newton are practically guaranteed roster spots and there’s talk the Panthers might bring in a veteran to mentor them. Unless he has a very strong camp, Pike might not have a roster spot.

Matt in Houston says he repeatedly has heard about the Saints’ offseason workouts, led by Brees, and wonders if other teams have been less active.

PY: Any workouts that have been done around the league have been positive because they help players stay somewhat sharp so they’ll be ready when the lockout ends. But none of these workouts are even close to what usually happens in the offseason when coaches are working with players. I’m sure Brees has done a great job with the Saints’ workouts and all indications are attendance has been great.Not to sell their efforts short in any way and I think the Saints are in the best shape of any division team coming out of the lockout, but I should point out their workouts have been open to the media and drawn far more attention than in most places.

Matt Ryan's been doing similar workouts with the Falcons, but Atlanta is a one-newspaper town and the television stations don't come out for every workout, so it’s not like there’s been wall-to-wall coverage. The Panthers didn’t do anything formal until a few weeks ago and only opened the last workout to the media. Josh Freeman has been leading workouts for offensive skill-position players for the Bucs since March, but he tried to keep them pretty private and didn’t allow much media access. The Bucs will be doing a minicamp -- that will include defensive players but won't be too heavy on linemen on either side of the ball -- next week that will be open to the media and it should get plenty of coverage.

But the bottom line is that while workouts may help a little bit, they’re no substitute for working with the coaches. Every team around the league is going to have to do some serious catching up in training camp.