NFC South: Call It

Let’s go ahead and declare 1 p.m. ET on Monday as our deadline for voting in our Call It poll on whether the Saints should re-sign veteran safety Darren Sharper.

If you haven’t cast your vote yet, please do so quickly. Once the deadline passes, I’ll write an analysis with my opinion.

I’ll give you a little clue right now: Barring a dramatic last-minute shift in the poll, it looks like most voters think the Saints should bring back Sharper. If that’s the final result, I’m going to disagree.

Sharper’s a great guy and certainly played a big role in the Saints winning their first Super Bowl a couple years ago. But he’s clearly been replaced by Malcolm Jenkins, who seems to be an emerging star. I also think Sharper’s going to get a chance to start with another team.

Part of the reason players make it to the NFL is because they’re so competitive and have so much pride. Sharper’s no different. I’m thinking that if he gets a shot at a starting job somewhere else, he’s going to take it.
Here’s a good question-and-answer session with New Orleans safety Darren Sharper.

This one’s a bit off the beaten path as Sharper talks about the places he’s traveled and his interest in a broadcasting career after football. But Sharper has made it known he wants to continue playing this season. At 35, Sharper was in a situation where the possibility of a missed season due to labor issues might have brought his career to an end.

But it’s looking more and more like something will get worked out on the labor front. That begs one question: Should the Saints re-sign Sharper? You can vote on that in our Call It poll to the right.

It’s a tough question. Sharper’s had a very good career and could end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His presence in 2009 was instrumental in the Saints winning their first Super Bowl. But Sharper became something of an afterthought last season.

He was dealing with some injuries early in the season and Malcolm Jenkins took over as the starting free safety. Jenkins showed star potential and should be with the Saints for the long term. Sharper’s not under contract and will become an unrestricted free agent once the lockout ends. Strong safety Roman Harper also can become a free agent and, if he isn’t re-signed, it’s at least possible the Saints could re-sign Sharper and move him or Jenkins to strong safety.

I think that’s a long shot. My guess is the Saints will re-sign Harper or find someone younger than Sharper to fill that spot. Could Sharper stick around as a backup? Well, he’s a good guy to have in your locker room and all that.

But I’m going to cast my vote as a “no." My guess is Sharper will end up signing elsewhere. He thinks he still has something left in his legs and there are other teams out there on which he’ll have an opportunity to start.
Apparently, fans of the Carolina Panthers are a very forgiving bunch.

They once booed quarterback Jake Delhomme out of town after he suddenly turned into an interception machine. But, after a season in purgatory (also known as Cleveland), Delhomme would be very welcome back in Charlotte.

That’s according to our Call It poll. We asked readers to vote on if the Panthers should bring back Delhomme, if he is released by the Browns, which is widely expected. Nearly 4,000 votes were cast and 58 percent said the Panthers should bring back Delhomme if he’s available.

Of course, let’s make the context very clear: Fans are not looking for Delhomme to come back and be the long-term starter that he was in his first Carolina tenure. The Panthers just drafted Cam Newton and they drafted Jimmy Clausen last year.

Coach Ron Rivera has implied the Panthers could be looking for a veteran to serve as a mentor to Newton and Clausen. I’m siding with Carolina fans on this one. I think Delhomme could be an excellent fit in a mentor/backup role.

There was a time when I would have said Delhomme couldn’t handle that situation. He’s an extremely competitive guy and would not have flourished in a situation where the team doesn’t want him to be the starter at some points earlier in his career. But I think Delhomme has reached a point where he’d be willing to accept a backup role. If he’s willing to embrace that and share his wealth of knowledge with Newton and Clausen, Delhomme could be an excellent fit back in Carolina.
Time to take a look at the results on our Call It poll, which asked you to vote for the NFC South player with the best chance at making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

More than 5,100 of you voted and the winner was New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees with 42 percent of the vote. Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez was second at 35 percent and Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber third at 14 percent. Carolina’s Steve Smith collected 6 percent of the vote and New Orleans safety Darren Sharper got 3 percent.

I’m with you on this one. I voted for Brees. As I said in this column, Brees is already on his way to a Hall of Fame career. At 31, he’s still got plenty of time left in his career. As long as he continues to put up numbers, he should have no problem making the Hall of Fame.

I’ll continue to discuss the chances of Gonzalez, Barber, Smith and Sharper reaching the Hall of Fame in the coming weeks.

Deadline for Call It polls

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
2:03
PM ET
If you have not already voted in our recent Call it polls on whether the Carolina Panthers should bring back Jake Delhomme (if available) and which NFC South player (Drew Brees, Ronde Barber, Tony Gonzalez, Steve Smith or Darren Sharper) has the best shot at making the Pro Football Hall of Fame, please do so.

Let’s go ahead and set 8 p.m. ET Monday as the deadline for voting. I’ll be a little generous if you’re a little late. I’ll take a look at results Tuesday morning and write posts on both topics, detailing the vote and sharing my opinion on both matters.

Thanks to all those who already have voted.
Although there seems to be some optimism about the direction of the NFL labor talks, I’m guessing it will be at least a few weeks before we see any start to free agency or organized team workouts.

With that in mind, I’m going to roll out a fun project to help pass the time. I’m going to take a look at which current NFC South players might be headed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I’ll kick it off Thursday with a column on Drew Brees. I think the New Orleans quarterback is well on his way to becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but there still is some work to be done to make that a certainty.

After Brees, we’ll jump around the division and look at some other candidates. I think I’ll do a combination piece on Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber and New Orleans safety Darren Sharper, two guys who have put up numbers that at least land them in the argument for the Hall of Fame.

We’ll also take a look at Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez, who just might be the best tight end ever. Then, we’ll stretch things a little bit and take a look at Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and maybe even include Atlanta’s Roddy White. Smith and White are receivers who have put up some big numbers in recent years, but still need some big seasons to have a shot at the Hall of Fame.

With that in mind, take a look at our Call It poll to the right and tell us which current NFC South player is the strongest choice to make the Hall of Fame.
There already were a few Carolina fans making noise about the Panthers bringing back quarterback Jake Delhomme. Now, players are doing it.

On his verified Twitter account, center Ryan Kalil strongly suggested the Panthers should bring back Delhomme to serve as a mentor to Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen.

First, let’s make one thing clear. At the moment, Delhomme is property of the Cleveland Browns. But there have been numerous reports that Delhomme could be released as soon as the lockout is over.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera has implied the Panthers will look to add a veteran, so there’s some logic to this. Delhomme was a fan favorite through much of his time in Carolina and also was very well-liked by his teammates and everyone in the building. The coaching staff has changed, but Delhomme still has friends in high places.

He’s also a smart and crafty veteran and could pick up Carolina’s new offense in a hurry. There is only one potential problem I see with this scenario. That’s Delhomme’s competitive nature.

When the Panthers signed David Carr a few years back, Delhomme wasn’t thrilled with the addition of a possible competitor. Delhomme survived a Carr challenge that never really materialized but suddenly started throwing way too many interceptions in his final two seasons in Carolina.

Delhomme is a bright guy, and he should be able to realize he’s at a point in his career where he can be content as a backup and mentor. If he can embrace that type of role, it might make sense to bring back the most successful quarterback in franchise history.

Let's hear your thoughts on if the Panthers should pursue Delhomme if he's available. Cast your vote.
We ran a Call It poll last week, asking you to name the NFC South’s best defensive player.

The results are in and we don’t just have a winner. We have two. Carolina linebacker Jon Beason and New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma tied for first with 32 percent of the vote.

Atlanta’s John Abraham was third with 18 percent and Tampa Bay’s Ronde Barber collected 15 percent. We did this as a prelude to the ESPN.com Power Rankings for defensive players, which will be announced Tuesday afternoon.

You’ll have to wait until then to see if Beason and Vilma made the top-10 list.

We won’t break this tie, but I will tell you my vote in this poll went to Beason. Vilma’s a great linebacker, but I think Beason’s a little better because he’s more dynamic.
Just looked back at the latest results in our Call It poll on the NFC South’s best defensive player. At the moment, we’ve got a tie.

Carolina linebacker Jon Beason and New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma each have 32 percent of the vote. There’s no law saying we can’t have a tie, but I’d prefer to see a clear-cut winner.

If you haven’t voted, please do so soon. I’ll do a post on the winner Tuesday morning, shortly before we unveil our Power Rankings of the top 10 defensive players in the NFL. Let’s set the voting deadline for 9 a.m. Tuesday.
Our next Power Rankings installment, which is scheduled to run Tuesday, will be a list of the top 10 defensive players in the league.

I’ve already sent off my ballot and I can tell you it’s light on NFC South representatives. I think there are some good defensive players around the division, but I don’t see a lot of truly dominant guys.

I also see some rising stars like New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins, Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy, Atlanta’s Sean Weatherspoon and Carolina’s Charles Johnson, but they’ve got to put out a little more evidence to really become established.

Anyway, let’s hear your thoughts. Take a look at the Call It poll to the right and vote for who you think is the best defensive player in the NFC South. If you choose the “other’’ category, please share your candidate in the comments section below.
For the past few months, the question I get most from readers (and even family and friends, who repeatedly are told they’ve got a three-minute window to talk football when I see them) is almost always the same.

“When is the lockout going to end?’’ they ask.

I don’t know the answer and I often ask myself the same question. The whole labor situation is distasteful to a lot of fans, but everyone still wants to know if this mess is going to last into the regular season.

I just looked over on our main NFL page and the fine folks at SportsNation have a poll up, asking readers when they think the lockout will end. I emailed the folks over at SportsNation to get clearance to borrow their poll for the NFC South blog and they gladly shared it.

Take a look at the choices to the right and cast your vote. For the record, I’m casting mine for July. Maybe I’m optimistic, but I think a lot of what we’ve been seeing from owners and players is posturing.

I think when things get closer to the opening of training camps, the sense of urgency will kick in and a deal will get done. Let’s hear your thoughts with your vote and in the comments section below.
Time to look at the results of our recent Call It poll on the future of wide receiver Steve Smith with the Carolina Panthers.

Smith
Smith
Let’s be fair to Smith and preface this by saying he came out Tuesday and said he has not asked for a trade. But he did admit he’s unsure what his future holds. Much of that has to do with the lockout and labor uncertainty, because the Panthers can’t make any roster moves during a lockout.

But I think most readers have a pretty good grip on how this situation will eventually play out. We received more than 5,000 votes and 77 percent said Smith will not be with the Panthers in 2011.

My guess is that number would be a pretty good read on the real-life odds of Smith being gone from the Panthers. It would be sad for fans in some ways because Smith might be the best player in franchise history.

But he also has some legs left and might do more for his career and chances at the Hall of Fame if he goes to an established team that has a shot to win right away. Smith’s spent his entire career with the Panthers, but it might be in his best interest to finish it somewhere else.

You’ve had your say, but we’ll see what Smith and the Panthers say once the lockout is over.
In our recent Call It poll we asked you to vote on which NFC South team has the best defensive line.

The poll was sparked by Matt Williamson’s Insider post, which had the New Orleans Saints as the division’s best. When I threw the question at you, there wasn’t major disagreement with the Saints having the best defensive line in the division.

Smith

Smith


More than 6,800 of you voted and 44 percent gave the nod to the Saints. Makes sense. Although there’s not a dominant defensive line in the division, the Saints clearly are the best. They’ve got Will Smith, who has been a very good defensive end at times, and Sedrick Ellis, who has emerged as a force in the middle. The Saints also recently added defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and first-round draft pick Cameron Jordan should provide a long-term upgrade at defensive end.

But, after we got past the Saints, there were some surprises in the voting. Tampa Bay was second with 29 percent, Atlanta third at 16 percent and Carolina fourth at 10 percent. I’m a bit surprised that Tampa Bay finished so far above Atlanta.

Abraham

Abraham


The Falcons do have the division’s premier pass rusher in John Abraham and the best interior player in Jonathan Babineaux. True, they’ve got some holes at other spots, but a healthy Peria Jerry could provide a huge boost for the interior and the Falcons are likely to go out and get one of the best pass rushers on the market whenever free agency opens.

But I think the voting reflects some speculation on what could happen in 2011 with Tampa Bay’s defensive line. In 2010, the Bucs weren’t very good up front. They had no pass rush and rookie defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price each showed some promise before having their seasons ended by injuries.

The Bucs just added defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers with their top two picks in this year’s draft and they still could look to add more help. McCoy and Price are expected to be healthy and, if Clayborn and Bowers live up to their billing, the Bucs suddenly could have a very good defensive line. It could be better than Atlanta’s and it could even end up being better than New Orleans’. But we won’t know until those players get out on the field.

Carolina’s fourth-place finish was not a surprise. But new coach Ron Rivera has some talent to work with. Defensive end Charles Johnson emerged as a pass-rushing force last season and the Panthers used two third-round picks on defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua.
Let’s go ahead and set the deadline for 10 p.m. ET Wednesday night on two of our Call It polls.

On Monday, I asked you to vote for which team has the NFC South’s best defensive line. So far, the Saints have a pretty strong lead, but I’m surprised that the Bucs are getting so much support and the Falcons so little.

I also asked for your thoughts on whether receiver Steve Smith will be with the Carolina Panthers next year. The early voting indicates most of you think Smith will be gone.

Once I close the polls, I’ll check the results and write an analysis piece on each item. That will help fill the space in the blog Thursday as I travel to Connecticut where we’re having our annual blog network minicamp Friday. There’s no lockout on this one. The bosses will be overseeing all the drills.
In this Insider post, Scouts Inc.’s Matt Williamson ranks the four NFC South defensive lines.

Although Atlanta has the division’s most dynamic pass-rusher in John Abraham and the best interior player in Jonathan Babineaux, I won’t argue with Williamson ranking New Orleans as the best defensive line in the NFC South.

The Saints have the division’s most complete defensive line, and the addition of first-round pick Cameron Jordan should only help in that regard. Put Jordan and Will Smith together and you’ve got two quality defensive ends. Same with Sedrick Ellis and Shaun Rogers at defensive tackle.

I think Atlanta can close the gap with a big free-agent signing (Ray Edwards?) and improved play from Peria Jerry, who has been hampered by a knee issue almost from the start of his career.

Tampa Bay and Carolina are both building with youth on the defensive line, and the Bucs used their first two picks this year on defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, while the Panthers used two third-round picks on defensive tackles Terrell McClain and Sione Fua. The Panthers already have promise on the outside, where Charles Johnson is coming off a breakout season.

But let’s turn it over to you. Take a look at the Call It poll to the right and cast your ballot for the best defensive line in the NFC South.

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