NFC South mailbag

Rum in New Orleans writes: Many times fans claim their team/owner is cheap, but do they really check out the League payroll levels? I guess this is directed at the Bucs, but folks used to claim Mr. Benson was cheap because of the level of our FAs -- but when you'd read the NFL payrolls, the Saints were always near the top. We used to have to OVER-PAY for folks to come down South -- how much do you think Drew Brees, Who Dat Nation, and a Lombardi change recruiting? What are the strong and the weak points of each team in the NFL South?

Pat Yasinskas: Very relevant question right now because I get a steady stream of complaints from Tampa Bay and Carolina fans about their teams being cheap. In Tampa Bay’s case, it’s hard to argue that, but I just wish fans would look at the bigger picture and stop blaming frugality for all their problems. The Bucs made a conscious decision to start building through the draft. Right or wrong, that’s what they’re doing and their plan is to not sign big-name free agents, no matter how much their fans scream for them. They’re also planning to use some of that money to re-sign some of their own core players -- Barrett Ruud, Donald Penn and Cadillac Williams -- to long-term deals. As far as the Panthers, nobody had ever called Jerry Richardson cheap before this year and it’s ironic that he suddenly has that label. Yes, he let some high-priced veterans go and wasn’t a big player in free agency. But the Panthers haven’t been a big player in free agency since the year the signed Ken Lucas and Mike Wahle. Yes, I think some of what Richardson has done (or hasn’t done) this offseason is tied to Richardson’s concerns about the labor situation. But the fact is the Panthers have believed in building through the draft throughout the time John Fox and Marty Hurney have been there. Atlanta’s another team that believes in building through the draft, but Arthur Blank opens the checkbook now and then and he did it this year for Dunta Robinson. If you’ve ever seen the Falcons’ practice facility, you know Blank is far from cheap. And you’re right, Tom Benson used to have a reputation for being cheap and that probably wasn’t deserved because the Saints did have to overpay at times. But those days are over. New Orleans is now a place where players want to be.

Andy in Whispering Pines, N.C., writes: I've been reading some of the other blogs and have seen that Albert Haynesworth may be had for a second-round pick. Being that Carolina is in dire need of a defensive lineman, what are thoughts on a trade for a pick. Oh yeah, he is only 28 which is much in line with the youth movement that Fox has been working on!

Pat Yasinskas: There’s no doubt Haynesworth could help the Panthers, who desperately need a force in the middle. But I don’t see this happening. The Panthers don’t have their first-round pick this year. If they trade away their second-round pick, there’s a good chance they come out of this draft without any impact players. That just doesn’t fit Carolina’s philosophy. Plus, Haynesworth comes with the sort of baggage Richardson doesn’t like. Also, think back to the early days of the Panthers when they made a trade with Washington for defensive tackle Sean Gilbert. That turned out to be a disaster and I’m sure Richardson remembers that.

Rob in Bush, LA writes: I haven't seen anyone talk about this but maybe I missed it. The NFL Draft starts at 6:30 p.m. New Orleans time Thursday night. In past drafts, each team has 15 minutes to make their selection. 32 teams X 15 minutes each = 8 hours. The Saints, picking at 32, won't be picking until about 2:30 a.m. in the morning local time. How many people will see it "live"? Might not even make the morning edition of the Times-Picayune. Whose idea was this?

Pat Yasinskas: Blame the NFL and television. It’s all about ratings and the success of the NBA draft in prime time that has set the stage for this. The good news is that each team will only get 10 minutes this year as opposed to 15. So you're looking at maximum of five hours and 20 minutes as opposed to eight hours. Also, not every team will take the full time allotted for their picks, but it still will be pretty late when New Orleans makes its pick.

Kyle in Peachtree City, Ga., writes: I have been watching USF DE Jason Pierre-Paul lately. And I believe he is the real deal. Is there any way the Atlanta Falcons will trade up to get him or is there any chance he drops to us?

Pat Yasinskas: I think there is a chance Pierre-Paul could be there when the Falcons pick at No. 19. It would be very interesting to see what the Falcons do if he is available. Pierre-Paul is an awesome athlete, perhaps even the best natural athlete in this year’s draft. He has the potential to be a tremendous pass rusher, which the Falcons desperately need. The one knock is that Pierre-Paul only played one year at a Division I program and doesn’t have a ton of experience against top competition. General manager Thomas Dimitroff seems to prefer guys who have a strong history of production. But I could see him making an exception here because Pierre-Paul’s upside is so great.

Ryan in Charlotte writes: With all this talk about Steve Smith needing someone to work with, should the Panthers just let Smitty interview and scout some receiver prospects? Then he can actually find someone he likes and maybe the Panthers draft the guy? Would this ever even be able to happen?

Pat Yasinskas: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if something like that already has happened. I’m not saying the Panthers have been sending Smith and a notebook to pro days or that he’s been doing in-depth interviews with prospects. But it’s not uncommon for teams to use current players as sounding boards on potential picks. They might have asked Smith about which receivers he likes or let him chat with a few of them as they came through for pre-draft visits.