NFC South: Byron Leftwich

Who's better than Dan Orlovsky?

February, 14, 2013
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Right after the regular season ended, Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano caused a bit of a stir when he said he’d like to bring in some competition for quarterback Josh Freeman.

Any time there’s talk of movement at the quarterback position, people tend to get excited. But, as I look at the crop of free-agent quarterbacks, I can feel my pulse slow. Aside from Joe Flacco, who is not going to get out of Baltimore, there’s absolutely nothing to get excited about.

Byron Leftwich? Josh Johnson? Luke McCown? Bruce Gradkowski?

They’ve all cycled through Tampa Bay once, and the Bucs don’t need to take a step back.

Matt Leinart? Brady Quinn? David Carr?

They’re all busts, high draft picks that have turned out to be nothing more than backups.

Is there any potential free agent out there that really would be much of an upgrade over current backup Dan Orlovsky?

The only two guys I’m seeing that intrigue me (just a little) are Jason Campbell and Matt Moore. I thought Campbell never really got a fair shake in his Washington days. Moore’s not going to wow anyone. But when he’s had the chance to play in Miami and Carolina, he’s shown some intangibles. Given the right circumstances, I think Campbell and Moore would at least have a shot at succeeding if they ended up as a starter.

There’s no doubt the current list of free agents will grow as teams release players before the start of free agency. And there could be some decent quarterbacks available via trade (Alex Smith?). The draft also is an option, but this isn’t the best year to be looking for a quarterback.

This will play out in time, and like I said, the pool could get deeper. But, for right now, the Bucs might as well hang onto Orlovsky.

The book on Josh Johnson

December, 1, 2011
12/01/11
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With Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman not throwing during the portion of Thursday’s practice that was open to the media, you have to start wondering if he’ll be able to play Sunday against Carolina.

[+] EnlargeJosh Johnson
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireBucs quarterback Josh Johnson might get an opportunity to start on Sunday against Carolina.
Freeman suffered a right shoulder injury at the end of last Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, coach Raheem Morris said. Freeman was limited in Wednesday’s practice.

Freeman has not missed a start since taking over the job midway through his rookie season. But it now appears possible that streak could end at 36 games.

If it does, backup Josh Johnson would get the start and the Bucs likely would activate Rudy Carpenter from the practice squad to be the No. 2 quarterback.

Johnson is a completely different style of quarterback than Freeman. First off, Johnson is much smaller at 6-foot-3, and he’s listed at 205 pounds. When you see Johnson in person, you wonder if that weight might be a little inflated. Johnson’s not a classic drop-back passer, and he definitely doesn’t have the same arm strength as Freeman.

But Johnson’s biggest strength might be his running ability. He’s exceptionally fast. Before he was drafted by the Bucs in the fifth round in 2008, Johnson’s 4.44-second 40-yard dash was the best time of any quarterback at the scouting combine.

The Bucs have used Johnson, 25, in the Wildcat formation at times this year and he’s run five times for 17 yards. He also has attempted seven passes this season, completing two for 14 yards.

Johnson came out of the University of San Diego and was chosen as Most Valuable Player in the 2008 East-West Shrine Bowl.

Johnson’s most extensive playing time came in 2009, the year the Bucs drafted Freeman. Tampa Bay’s plan was to bring Freeman along slowly, and the Bucs opened the season with Byron Leftwich as their starter.

That didn’t last long. On Sept. 27, 2009, Johnson replaced an ineffective Leftwich and went on to start the next four games, before Freeman took over. Most of Johnson’s career passing stats came in 2009.

He’s completed 53.4 percent of his passes for 810 yards, four touchdowns and eight interceptions. The Bucs likely would adjust their play-calling to take advantage of Johnson’s running ability if he does have to start.

Johnson also could be looking at extra incentive if he gets a start or two. He has said he aspires to be a full-time starter at some point. That’s not likely to happen in Tampa Bay as long as Freeman is around.

But, if Johnson gets to play and makes the most of it, that could help him down the line. Johnson is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Several times this offseason, new Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera has implied pretty strongly that he wants to add a veteran quarterback to help mentor Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen.

I get the idea. Clausen and Newton are both very young and raw. If the lockout shortens training camp, the Panthers could even open the season with someone like Marc Bulger or Jake Delhomme as the starting quarterback. Someone like Delhomme or Bulger could come in and run the offense efficiently until Newton and/or Clausen gets up to speed.

But let’s say the lockout gets resolved quickly and training camp starts on time. In that scenario, I’m not so sure it’s necessary the Panthers go out and sign a veteran to work as a mentor. In fact, I think the idea of having a player mentor another player at the same position is overrated. First off, there are competitive juices flowing through every professional athlete and that doesn’t always lead to dedicated mentoring.

Besides, I think the Panthers already have some pretty good mentors for Newton and Clausen. They are offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. They’ve been around and are good at what they do. They can do more as mentors than some veteran backup.

Look at how Tampa Bay handled Josh Freeman. They had Byron Leftwich there as a (very short) bridge in Freeman’s rookie year. But Leftwich wasn’t a mentor. Freeman’s development came because he worked hard and because he got some very good coaching from offensive coordinator Greg Olson and Alex Van Pelt joined the Bucs as quarterbacks coach last season. Freeman frequently credits Olson and Van Pelt for his progress. It was kind of the same thing with Matt Ryan in Atlanta. Chris Redman might be an extra set of eyes and ears for Ryan, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and former quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave were the ones who developed him.

It probably wouldn’t hurt the Panthers if they add a veteran mentor for Newton and Clausen. But will it really help them? They’ve got another quarterback, Tony Pike, who they drafted last year. Some in the organization thinks Pike has potential. If the Panthers bring in a veteran, Pike will be gone, unless the Panthers find some way to carry four quarterbacks. Putting Pike on the practice squad is possible, but not likely. If he’s released, some other team will sign him before Carolina can get him on the practice squad.

The idea of bringing in a mentor sounds nice. But the fact is the Panthers might already have all the mentors they need in Chudzinski and Shula.
We have a very interesting story over on our news side that reveals the National Football League has proposed to divert about $300 million a year from guaranteed money for rookies to benefits and salaries for veterans.

We’ve gone a little further into that because the resolution of the labor situation and how rookies are paid could have a huge and direct impact on the Carolina Panthers, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Under the old system, that pick likely would make somewhere around $50 million in guaranteed money. According to figures obtained by ESPN.com, the past five No. 1 overall draft picks have received $180.8 million in guaranteed compensation before ever playing a down in the NFL. That’s an average of $36.169 million per player.

Last year’s top draft pick, St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford, got $50 million guaranteed in his contract. Matthew Stafford, the top pick in 2009, was given a deal with $41.7 million in guaranteed money. Miami’s Jake Long got $30 million guaranteed when he was taken in 2008. Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell, one of the biggest busts in recent years, was given $32.019 million in 2007 and 2006 top pick Mario Williams got $27.125 million in guaranteed money.

Much of the pre-draft speculation has Carolina taking a quarterback at No. 1, and Auburn’s Cam Newton and Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert are the names that have come up most often. But drafting a quarterback early doesn’t always mean success, although it has meant big money.

The last 15 quarterbacks selected in the top 10 (going back to Michael Vick in 2001) have had contracts that guaranteed them more than $367 million. That’s an average of $24.474 million per player, and only six of those 15 quarterbacks have been selected to a Pro Bowl.

Here’s a list of those quarterbacks that includes their draft year, team and guaranteed money.

Falcons fall flat in Pittsburgh

September, 12, 2010
9/12/10
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Matt RyanAP Photo/Don WrightMatt Ryan and the Atlanta offense wasted a strong performance by the Falcons defense.
PITTSBURGH – Rise up? How about falling flat?

That’s what the Atlanta Falcons did Sunday at Heinz Field. The team that made the phrase “Rise Up’’ the centerpiece of its offseason marketing campaign, at very least, stumbled badly in the season opener.

When you’ve got a good young core of players that you think is about to take the next step, there’s nothing wrong with promoting the idea of rising up. Seems like everyone else in Atlanta got the message, except the Falcons.

“I thought it was a well-fought game,’’ Atlanta coach Mike Smith said.

Well fought? Yeah, we’ll give Smith that. But well played? No, not even close.

If you truly aspire to be a playoff team, you don’t go on the road and lose 15-9 in overtime to a Pittsburgh Steelers team that’s playing its third-string quarterback. With Ben Roethlisberger suspended and Byron Leftwich out, Matt Ryan easily should have been the best quarterback on the field.

He wasn’t. Dennis Dixon was, and that’s a huge problem for the Falcons. One loss doesn’t make a season, but it sure can set a tone. Three hours after the season started for the Falcons, they already were one game behind the New Orleans Saints … and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. You’ve got to figure the Bucs will run into reality at some point, but the Saints aren’t the kind of team you can give an early lead and expect to come back.

Especially when you lose a game you should have won.

“They were the better team today,’’ Smith said.

I’m not buying that. With Roethlisberger, sure. With Leftwich, maybe. But, with Dixon and not much else but a good defense, the Falcons had a big opportunity. It wasn’t like Dixon tore Atlanta’s defense apart. He completed 18 of 26 passes for 236 yards with one interception. He appeared frazzled at times, made some bad throws and only led the Steelers to three field goals in the 60 minutes of regulation time.

So where was Atlanta’s new-look defense, which is supposed to be so much better than last season, and what about all the rumors that the Falcons would have an actual pass rush this year?

Well, the Falcons did record three sacks. But two of those came on back-to-back plays near the end of regulation, and the other one came earlier in the second half. When the Falcons had a chance to really rattle a young quarterback early on, they failed.

Let’s hit the defense with one more thing before we move to the real culprit. Overall, the defense wasn’t that bad until its first play of overtime. That’s when Rashard Mendenhall broke off a 50-yard touchdown run to win the game.

“To have a big play at the end like that just makes you sick to your stomach,’’ Atlanta linebacker Curtis Lofton said.

That was the only time either team got into the end zone all day, and that was Atlanta’s real crime.

“Our defense played well,’’ receiver Roddy White said. “We let them down as an offense.’’

What White said pretty much sums up the game. When you’ve got an offense that features Ryan, White, Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner, you shouldn’t have such trouble scoring points.

“We’ve got to make more big plays,’’ White said.

He’s right. The Falcons had only two pass plays go for 20 yards or more, and the longest was 23 yards. The Falcons didn’t have a run go for more than seven yards. Aside from White, who caught 13 passes for 111 yards, the Falcons really had no offensive bright spots.

Did the absence of injured receiver Michael Jenkins really make that much difference? It shouldn’t. Jenkins is a role player, a guy who’s supposed to catch some possession passes and make some blocks in the running game.

[+] EnlargeTurner
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicAfter a subpar 2009 season, Michael Turner is off to another slow start in 2010.
Where Jenkins is important in the running game is down the field. But the Falcons never came close to getting down the field in the running game. Turner carried 19 times for 42 yards. That’s a 2.2-yard average.

That’s hugely disappointing, especially after we heard so much in the offseason about how Turner was in such better physical condition than last season. Turner admitted he let himself get out of shape after a huge 2008 season and has claimed he’s on a mission to prove he was not a one-season wonder.

I’m not ready to write Turner off just yet, because it didn’t look like his offensive line was doing him any favors. Then again, Turner wasn’t making anything happen on his own.

Same with Ryan. The conventional wisdom among the Falcons was that Ryan didn’t have a bad season in 2009 -- that he was just the victim of injuries to Turner and receiver Harry Douglas. I bought it at the time and repeatedly argued that Ryan didn’t have what many called a “sophomore slump."

But now I’m starting to wonder about that and about Turner perhaps being a one-season wonder. That makes me wonder about the whole idea of Atlanta rising up.

Sure, the defense looked pretty good, and that’s encouraging even against an inexperienced quarterback. But the offense, which seems so talented on paper, really hasn’t played to its full potential in a very long time. Was 2008 just a mirage?

“It’s one game,’’ Ryan said. “Our objective has to be to get back to work and fix some things.’’

Ryan’s right. It is only one game. But there are a lot of things to fix and the Arizona Cardinals come to the Georgia Dome next week and the Falcons go to New Orleans in Week 3. If the Falcons don’t fix things quickly and find an offense, they won’t be rising up.

Final Word: NFC South

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
4:00
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeTony Gonzalez
Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesTight end Tony Gonzalez needs one catch to reach 1,000 for his career.
Get the milestone out of the way. If I’m Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey, I’m throwing to tight end Tony Gonzalez on one of the first three offensive plays, probably even the first. Gonzalez needs one catch to reach 1,000 for his career. Gonzalez will get his 1,000th catch sometime on Sunday against Pittsburgh. But the Falcons can do him and themselves a favor by getting it out of the way early. Once that mission is accomplished, Gonzalez can start shooting for career catch 1,100 and the Falcons can focus squarely on the Steelers.

Lucky break. Remember last year when it seemed like everything that could go wrong for the Falcons did go wrong? They had all sorts of injuries and still managed to go 9-7. The Saints went 13-3 and were very good, but also very lucky along the way. Maybe things are turning in a better direction for the Falcons. It’s only one omen, but, come on, drawing Dennis Dixon as the starting Pittsburgh quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger is suspended and Byron Leftwich is hurt) on opening day is a sign that the Falcons might not be abiding by Murphy’s Law this year.

Growing pains. The Bucs have sold out every home regular-season game since they’ve been playing in Raymond James Stadium. For the record, that facility opened in 1998. For the record, Josh Freeman was 10-years-old when the stadium opened. Sunday’s opener with Cleveland is not a sellout and won’t be seen on local television. All indications are that Freeman has grown immensely since his rookie season. Tampa Bay fans better hope that’s the case or else they’ll be watching a lot of out-of-town games on television this fall.

Curb your enthusiasm. A lot of folks in the Carolinas are all fired up because the defense looked very good in the preseason. That’s all very encouraging, but let’s keep things in perspective. Before we go saying this defense is better off without Julius Peppers, let’s see how August superstars Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy fare against Eli Manning and a team with an actual game plan.

Anybody up for some flag football? Through the years, Carolina receiver Steve Smith has crossed the line many times. The Panthers always have been willing to forgive and part of the reason for that is Smith usually makes up for his mistakes when given another opportunity. Well, the next opportunity comes Sunday when Smith plays in his first game since the one at the Siskey YMCA in Charlotte, where he broke his arm in a flag-football game in June. I’m guessing Smith will come back very motivated and may look like he’s playing flag football against the Giants.
TAMPA, Fla. -- If it seems like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been working later than the rest of the NFC South, it’s only because they have.

While the Saints, Falcons and Panthers (except for Steve Smith, who had a flag football game Sunday) stopped their offseason programs last week, the Bucs just wrapped up Tuesday afternoon. It was all by design, part of a master plan by coach Raheem Morris to get his rookie class as involved as possible.

With that in mind, Morris pushed his offseason program back as far as possible and, unlike every other team in the division, waited until the very end to go through a full minicamp.

“It’s been a good offseason,’’ Morris said. “There’s been a lot of progression instead of taking steps back.’’

Morris’ words might be even more true than he realizes. The Bucs really do have a different look about them this year. Tuesday’s practice sessions were more crisp than a year ago and there are a lot of reasons for that.

Start with the fact that the guys who were coordinating the offense and defense a year ago are gone. Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski didn’t even make it to the regular season before getting fired. Morris ousted defensive coordinator Jim Bates in the middle of last season and took over supervising the defense.

Throw in the fact that the Bucs were going through a dog-and-pony show with their quarterback competition at this time a year ago as Byron Leftwich and Luke McCown, who weren’t really in the team’s long-term plans, were getting the first-team work.

Josh Freeman is now firmly established as the starting quarterback and he and offensive coordinator Greg Olson have had an entire offseason to work together. But the continuity isn’t just developing on offense.

Morris will continue to run the defense and he said that he’s spent a lot of time with middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.

“That’s my quarterback,’’ Morris said.

Ruud and Morris have gone out to dinner multiple times and talked extensively about their visions for the defense. We’ll have to wait a few months to see the results and, with so many young players, the Bucs remain a work in progress.

But, this time around, they at least look like a team that at least has a plan. That’s something you couldn’t see a year ago.
Breakdown: With the Buccaneers building with youth, there probably won’t be any overnight miracles. But look at the first three games on the schedule -- it’s at least possible the Bucs could start 2-1 or 3-0. They’ve got the Browns, Panthers and Steelers and it’s entirely possible Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could be suspended for that game. In a bit of irony, Byron Leftwich, who was traded from Tampa Bay to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, could be starting for the Steelers that day.

The schedule only gets more difficult after a Week 4 bye, but the Bucs could build some momentum with a fast start. It’s a well-known fact the Buccaneers have struggled in cold weather since the franchise started. They’ve got potential cold-weather games in Baltimore and Washington.

Complaint department: The Buccaneers do not have a single game in prime time. Then again, did you really expect the NFL to put a team that was 3-13 last year on national television?

Blackout time?: The Buccaneers have sold out every game at Raymond James Stadium since they moved there in 1998. Keeping that streak alive might have involved some creative accounting last year because there sure appeared to be a lot of empty seats. But the world’s best ticket-sales force might not be able to prevent local television blackouts this year. The Bucs might be able to sell out the first two games against Cleveland and Pittsburgh because a lot of Tampa Bay residents are transplants from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Plus, the champion Saints come to town Oct. 17 and that game should take care of itself. But the Rams are coming to town Oct. 24. I’m thinking the only way that one sells out is if the Bucs are 5-0 and Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Mike Alstott and Warren Sapp come out of retirement and sign with St. Louis.

Buccaneers Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Cleveland, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM
Week 4: BYE
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Cincinnati, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, New Orleans, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, St. Louis, 1:00 PM
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 31, at Arizona, 4:15 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at San Francisco, 4:05 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, at Baltimore, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, Atlanta, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, at Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at New Orleans, 1:00 PM

The Bucs now have 12 picks in this year’s draft. They just added a seventh-round pick by trading quarterback Byron Leftwich to Pittsburgh, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Give general manager Mark Dominik extra points for being able to get anything for Leftwich, who lost his starting job early last season and appeared to have almost no trade value since the rest of the league knew he wasn't in Tampa Bay's plans. But Pittsburgh, facing the possibility of discipline for Ben Roethlisberger, was desperate for depth and Leftwich is a guy who previously played for the Steelers.

NFC South mailbag

March, 29, 2010
3/29/10
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Patrick in Atlanta writes: Someone brought up a great question on Harry Douglas. If he is going to take over Michael Jenkin's #2 spot, he'd better be a good downfield blocker. Can you speak to that aspect of his game? How'd the surgery go?

Pat Yasinskas: Good question, because the blocking aspect is part of the equation here. Say what you want about Jenkins as a No. 2 receiver, but his blocking is very good and that’s part of the reason he’s on the field. With Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez on the field, the Falcons don’t need Jenkins to put up huge numbers as a receiver, but they value his blocking very much. Douglas did fine with his surgery and is coming along well with his recovery. General manager Thomas Dimitroff said Douglas will be ready for the season. But I think you’ll see him as the No. 3 receiver and he’ll get playing time in the slot. That might be the role Douglas is best suited for. His size doesn’t make him an ideal blocker.


John in Tampa writes: Has Byron Leftwich's value gone up for a Pittsburgh Steelers team that is reeling at QB? Sure they just signed Batch, but of Big Ben's backups, Leftwich was most successful for them. With the relationship between Mike Tomlin and Buc's coach Raheem Morris, is it possible one could scratch the other's back?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, keep an eye on this one. We don’t know exactly what will happen with the Ben Roethlisberger situation in Pittsburgh, but Leftwich has history with the Steelers. The Bucs don’t have any plans for Leftwich. If they could add a draft pick for him, I’m sure they would do it. But I think we’re talking about a late-round pick at best.


Ned in Canada writes: I am almost certain the Falcons will take a defensive end in the draft. Look at the Pro Days they attended, TCU, Georgia, Flordia, all three have good linebackers with third-round value. Also after Dunlap, Pierre-Paul, Morga, and Graham there won't be any good ends left in the later rounds, what do you think?

Pat Yasinskas: I think defensive end definitely is Atlanta’s No. 1 need, and I think there’s a very good chance it’ll go that way with the No. 19 overall pick. Problem is, there might not be an end available at that point who brings that kind of value. The Falcons might have to go with a linebacker first. But I’d rather see them get a defensive end in the first round and come back with a linebacker in the third.


Cody in Alexandria, La., writes: Great stuff all year long. I just got into the blogs this year and you’re by far the best over any internet or newspapers I've read. When i first started reading your posts though you did a team by team mailbag. Any chance of that coming back?

Pat Yasinskas: Cody, yes, we do the team-by-team mailbags from time to time. I generally do it more in the regular season where there are more letters to work with. But I’ll also do it sometimes in the offseason when there are enough questions with enough variety to merit individual mailbags for all four teams. Keep the letters coming and maybe we’ll do some team-by-team mailbags as we get a little closer to the draft.

NFC South mailbag

March, 27, 2010
3/27/10
4:36
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Time for a plunge into the NFC South mailbag.

Rock in Slidell, LA writes: Since you are quarantined (joke) to the NFC South, thought you might like a little trivia. In 2002, when NFL realigned, it created a division, not on purpose, that housed the 4 teams with the worst all time winning percentage. (This is excluding the newly formed Texans). At the time the Bucs had the worst winning percentage, at .384, followed by the Falcons at .400, Saints at .401 and Panthers at .415. Since that time the NFC South has held its own going +6 over .500 over those last 8 years. The other divisions are as follows with a slight margin of error due to 2 ties. NFC East = 20, NFC North = -20, NFC West = -40, AFC South = 26, AFC East = 13, AFC West = -6 and AFC North is Even. You can see the discrepancy in that the AFC is 33 over the NFC during that span.

Pat Yasinskas: Great note, Rock. Thanks very much for sharing. Yes, the long-ago histories of the NFC South teams sure weren’t pretty. But that’s changed for the better in recent years. The Saints just won a Super Bowl. The Falcons had back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in franchise history. The Panthers have been to two NFC title games since the division started. Although the Bucs are struggling now, they won the Super Bowl in the first year of the NFC South. It’s a fun division and I’m thrilled I get to cover it.


Ed in Cape Coral, FL writes: You said again that Byron Leftwich has no trade value, but if Charlie Whitehurst (never even thrown a meaningful NFL pass) can garner a 3rd rd pick and Kevin Kolb (only 2 starts) is shopped for two first-round picks why can't Leftwich or even Josh Johnson get something in between?

Pat Yasinskas: At absolute best, the Bucs might be able to get a sixth- or seventh-round pick for Leftwich. But I think even that might be tough to pull off. Your points on Kolb and Whitehurst are taken, but the reason they have value is because they are younger and teams view them as quarterbacks who might ascend. Leftwich is 30 and has flopped as a starter several times. There’s no upside with him. Also, every team around the league knows the Bucs probably will cut Leftwich if they can’t trade him. So why give up a draft pick if you might be able to sign him as a free agent? Also, you mentioned Josh Johnson. If I were the Bucs, I’d hang onto him. Not saying he lit it up by any means, but I saw some positives when he played last year. I think he can be a decent backup to Josh Freeman.


Carlos in Panama City writes: Would the Bucs consider taking an offensive tackle early in the draft? I have grown weary of Jeremy Trueblood's false starts and mediocre production.

Pat Yasinskas: I don’t think you’ll see that happen in the first round. The Bucs have glaring needs at other spots and need to work on those. But I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the Bucs take a tackle sometime after the first round. Their offensive line was supposed to be an area of strength last year, but it underachieved. Could be time for some changes.


Jeff in Atlanta writes: Do you see Harry Douglas coming back and having a breakout season? I know he's anxious to come back and produce, especially because he sat out all year in 09. Do you think that his year off will help or hurt his development?

Pat Yasinskas: Thomas Dimitroff told me the other day at the owners meeting that Douglas is doing well in his rehab and is expected to be at full health in time for the start of the season. I see no reason why he can’t have a big impact this year. The Falcons were really excited about him after he showed so much promise as a rookie and had big plans for him before he got hurt in training camp last year. I know Douglas a little bit and he’s a very competitive and positive guy. I’m sure he’s working hard to get healthy and I think you’ll see a good amount of him in the upcoming season.


Ryan in LaCross, WI writes: There is a lot of talk about Carolina and Tim Tebow, but it’s always focused around him coming in as a QB. What if Carolina is looking at him as a TE/H-back roll?

Pat Yasinskas: I’d be in favor of Tebow in that situation. But I think he’s made it pretty obvious he is intent on giving it a try at quarterback and I think there are some teams out there that will give him a chance. I know a lot of Carolina fans think the Panthers may take Tebow in the second round as a quarterback. I really don’t think that’s going to happen.

Delhomme could stay in NFC South

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
11:52
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With tonight’s news that the Carolina Panthers are parting ways with Jake Delhomme, I think there is a chance Delhomme could stay in the NFC South.

In fact, I started to write that I could see Delhomme landing with any of the other three NFC South teams. But before I could post this item, ESPN’s John Clayton called to tell me the Falcons have agreed to re-sign backup Chris Redman. So scratch the Falcons off that list.

But I still can see solid logic in the Buccaneers or Saints pursuing Delhomme. Let’s face it, Delhomme’s days as a starter are probably over. But he apparently still wants to play or else he simply would have retired. He’s a competitor, a trait that makes it tough for some guys to accept backup roles.

But I think Delhomme is one of those guys that could handle it quite nicely. I also think he’d be an excellent mentor for any young quarterback. It wouldn’t hurt another NFC South team to have a guy who could give them an inside look at Carolina’s playbook.

Let’s examine the scenarios with the Buccaneers and Saints:

Tampa Bay: In a lot of ways, I think this could be the best landing spot for Delhomme. The Bucs still have Byron Leftwich, but there has been a lot of speculation he could be on his way out. If he goes, the Bucs need someone to help mentor franchise quarterback Josh Freeman and reserve Josh Johnson. Delhomme is a natural for that role and he also would bring leadership to a locker room that didn’t have much of that last year.

New Orleans: Backup Mark Brunell is a free agent and I’m not sure the Saints want to bring him back because of his age. Delhomme is no Drew Brees, but also is no Aaron Brooks. Delhomme is a guy who could fill in for a game or two because he’s smart and he also would fit nicely into any locker room. Plus, Delhomme is a Louisiana guy. He started his career in New Orleans. That would be a nice place for Delhomme to finish his career.

Around the NFC South

February, 25, 2010
2/25/10
9:50
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Time for a morning cruise through the local headlines around the NFC South.

  • The Saints have started the process of making tenders to some of their 18 restricted free agents. The latest to receive a tender is offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod, according to Mike Triplett. He’s been given a second-round tender worth $1.68 million.
  • Darin Gantt points out the Panthers are more likely to use that $20 million they saved by not franchising Julius Peppers on long-term contracts for players such as linebackers Thomas Davis and Jon Beason, center Ryan Kalil and running back DeAngelo Williams than they are on making a big splash in free agency. That may not be what Carolina fans want to hear, but it’s the truth.
  • Rick Stroud ponders some veteran quarterbacks the Bucs might consider to play behind Josh Freeman. They’re almost certain to let Byron Leftwich walk. The names Stroud throws out of guys who could be available include Marc Bulger and Chad Pennington. Bulger and offensive coordinator Greg Olson were together in St. Louis.
  • D. Orlando Ledbetter has the list of Falcons scheduled to become restricted free agents. He also has the breakdown of the tender levels for restricted free agents.

More movement by Tampa Bay

November, 24, 2009
11/24/09
11:34
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Ah, for those tranquil days of the Sam Wyche regime or the Ray Perkins era.

Back then, you could only go as far as speculating that the Bucs were a franchise out of control and adrift on Tampa Bay.

These days, all that’s official.

You already know Jim Bates has been demoted from his job as defensive coordinator. But now we’ve got more brewing out of One Buccaneer Place.

The Bucs just announced that they’ve signed quarterback Rudy Carpenter off Dallas’ practice squad and receiver Terrence Nunn from New England’s practice squad. To borrow a cleaned-up quote from the classic movie “Major League’’, “Who are these guys?’’

I have no argument with the Bucs placing veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich on injured reserve or releasing cornerback Mike Mickens. But, seriously, we’re into late November and the Bucs are trying to solve their problems by signing guys who were on the practice squads of other teams?

How I See It: NFC South Stock Watch

November, 24, 2009
11/24/09
11:00
AM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Peppers
Peppers
1. Julius Peppers, Panthers defensive end: Although John Fox, who is extremely guarded about injuries, won’t say it, it sure looks and sounds like Peppers is playing with a broken hand. He’s gone through the last two games with his hand heavily wrapped.

He’s been used only in pass-rush situations and he hasn’t been able to get near the quarterback.

2. Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers receiver He finally got back on the field Sunday, but he didn’t do very much. Then, he said in the post-game interview that the Bucs are too conservative with their game plan because they’re playing rookie quarterback Josh Freeman. Of course they are, but the game plan looks more wide open than it did when Byron Leftwich or Josh Johnson were starting.

If you truly want to be a No. 1 receiver and get a long-term contract, this is not how you play or act.

3. Falcons, the entire secondary: This has been a problem spot all season and it only seems to be getting worse. Corners Chris Houston, Tye Hill, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson are getting beat on a regular basis. Safeties Erik Coleman and Thomas DeCoud were able to cover for some of the early mistakes, but they haven’t been able to do that lately.

If the Falcons are going to have any shot at the playoffs, they’ve got to find a way to start covering some receivers.

Rising

Meachem
Meachem
1. Robert Meachem, Saints receiver: The third-year receiver suddenly has become a touchdown machine. He had two Sunday against Tampa Bay. Meachem definitely has turned the corner this season and has become a dependable part of the offense after two years of struggling.

Sure, it helps that he’s working with Drew Brees. But Meachem has made his increased role possible with a lot of hard work.

2. Malcolm Jenkins, Saints cornerback: The rookie was pushed into a start Sunday because of injuries to starters Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter. He responded with an interception and made several nice tackles.

The Saints had brought Jenkins along slowly early in the year, but he has shown he can handle some playing time.

3. Matt Ryan, quarterback, Falcons. After struggling for several games, Ryan rallied in the second half of Sunday’s overtime loss to the Giants. He looked like the Ryan of last year -- decisive and accurate.

Although the Falcons ended up losing the game, it was no fault of Ryan’s. If he can keep playing the way he did in the second half, he could help the Falcons end their slump.

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