Around the NFC South

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
10:04
AM ET
Time for a look at the Monday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Just when it seemed like the offseason couldn’t get any more bizarre for the Saints, it has. Jeff Duncan reports that executive vice president Rita Benson LeBlanc, who had been viewed as the likely successor to her grandfather, Tom Benson, has been away from the team for several months. Duncan writes that LeBlanc was placed on unofficial administrative leave.

The Falcons open their offseason program Monday, but cornerback Brent Grimes is not expected to attend. Grimes is carrying the franchise tag and has not signed his tender. There haven’t been any recent talks about a long-term contract, because Grimes’ agent and the team have been busy getting ready for the draft. But talks should resume after the draft.

Richard Walker writes that the Carolina Panthers should trade down from the No. 9 overall pick in the draft. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, because the Panthers could add an extra draft pick or two. But, as I always say, it’s easy to talk about trading down. But it’s hard to actually make it happen. There aren’t offers to trade down at every stop in the first round, and the Panthers might be sitting past the point where teams are looking to jump up to.

The Saints reportedly have restructured the contract of middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma. No surprise there. Vilma had been scheduled to count nearly $7.7 million against this year’s cap. He’s aging and is coming off an injury, and the Saints had to knock his cap figure down because they have very limited cap room. Vilma also is facing a possible suspension for his role in the Saints’ bounty program.

Scott Reynolds writes that defensive tackle Amobi Okoye, a first-round pick by Houston in 2007, has a chance to shine with the Buccaneers. At worst, Okoye should be able to contribute as part of a rotation with Gerald McCoy, Brian Price and Roy Miller. At best, Okoye could be a starter if McCoy and Price, who each have struggled with injuries, continue to have problems.

After going through their first minicamp, the Buccaneers don’t seem to have any problems with new coach Greg Schiano’s more structured approach. They shouldn’t. Raheem Morris’ laid-back approach didn’t work. The Bucs are coming off a 4-12 season, and that’s not going to earn anyone the right to have easy practices in training camp or minicamp.

Former Atlanta safety Ray Easterling was the lead plaintiff in the first wave of concussion-related lawsuits against the NFL. He died last week, and police said his death was a suicide. For all those who say the NFL came down too hard with punishments on the Saints' bounty program, I point to this and other similar situations as to why the NFL acted the way it did. As these lawsuits move through the court system, the NFL can't afford to have the impression out there that it tolerates things like bounty programs.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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