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Tuesday, February 28, 2012
NFC South evening update

By Pat Yasinskas

We still are about to weeks away from the start of free agency. But the quiet period is starting to ease a bit. With the combine wrapping up, we're starting to get a bit more news as teams prepare for free agency. Let's take a look at Tuesday's headlines.

New Orleans guard Carl Nicks said he’s having difficulty with the anxiety that comes with the uncertainty about his future. It’s not fun or even fair to Nicks to have to go through this, but the reality is he’ll probably be feeling anxious for a while longer. The Saints still haven’t worked out a long-term deal with quarterback Drew Brees. The deadline for using the franchise tag is March 5. If the Saints don’t have a deal with Brees by then, he’ll get tagged. If they do have a deal, they’ll probably try to work out a quick contract with Nicks, but there might not be enough time, and he could end up with the franchise tag. However it works out, I’m sensing some turbulent times in New Orleans. The Saints very well could lose some other free agents like receivers Marques Colston and Robert Meachem, and cornerback Tracy Porter, and they might have to cut some prominent players to keep themselves under the salary cap.

At least the Saints have a little insurance at receiver if Colston and Meachem do leave. Adrian Arrington reportedly has signed his tender as an exclusive-rights free agent. That leaves him along with Lance Moore and Devery Henderson. That means the cupboard’s not bare if Colston and Meachem escape, but I think the Saints would go out and draft a receiver or sign a free agent, because they like to use a rotation of four or five receivers.

Instead of opening on a Thursday night as it has in recent years, the 2012 season will open on Wednesday, Sept. 5 because of a conflict with the Democratic National Convention. The New York Giants will host that game. Their opponent isn’t known yet. But looking at their list of home opponents, it’s not a stretch to jump to the conclusion they’ll host either the Saints or Packers in the opener.

With the new collective bargaining agreement, offseason programs are going to look a lot different than in the past. The Falcons won’t start their offseason workouts until April 23, coach Mike Smith said. That’s more than a month later than the team started in past years. But the ground rules are the same for all teams.

A day after saying he was 75 percent sure he’d be leaving the New York Giants as a free agent, receiver Mario Manningham adjusted those odds to 50-50. Manningham also downplayed a report that he could be headed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That’s all Manningham can realistically do at this point, because free agency hasn’t started. But, if he does become a free agent, there’s likely to be more media speculation about him joining the Bucs. That’s because Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan was an assistant with the Giants and coached receivers at one point. That the Bucs could use better production at receiver also is going to fuel speculation about Manningham as a possibility for Tampa Bay.

Here's some audio of me discussing free agency and the Bucs (and a little bit on the Saints) with ESPN Florida Radio's Tom Krasniqi.