Time for a run through the top headlines from around the NFC South:
When the Falcons had the first-round bye back in the 2010 season, coach Mike Smith gave his team some time off. Although Smith usually is a creature of habit, he’s taking a different approach this time around. The Falcons will practice four times this week. But I’m not surprised Smith is taking a different approach than he did in 2010 because the Falcons lost to the Packers in the playoffs.
Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and special-teams coach Keith Armstrong aren’t the only staff members drawing attention from elsewhere. Director of player personnel Dave Caldwell also is being mentioned as a candidate for several of the vacant general manager jobs.
After rushing for a franchise record 210 yards in the season finale, DeAngelo Williams said his future is in the hands of the Panthers. No matter who ends up as general manager, the Panthers face a difficult salary-cap situation and Williams stands out because he has a huge contract and the team has depth in the backfield with Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Mike Triplett writes the NFL should go ahead and reinstate suspended coach Sean Payton immediately, instead of after the Super Bowl. It’s a nice idea and it would help the Saints if Payton was allowed to have a voice in some big decisions that are facing the Saints. But I have a very tough time seeing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell letting Payton coming back early. Goodell took a big hit when his player suspensions were overturned and letting Payton serve his full suspension would save some face.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Ira Kaufman lists five issues the Bucs need to address in the offseason. Naturally, he starts with the secondary. The pass defense was terrible and the Bucs have to find several new cornerbacks in free agency and the draft. They also may have to get a free safety because Ronde Barber could retire.