NFC South: Chuck Pagano

The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season.

ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

Around the NFC South

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
9:41
AM ET
NEW ORLEANS -- Let's take a run through the headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Mike Smith was named Coach of the Year by The Sporting News. Smith also won the honor in the 2008 and 2010 seasons. That puts him with Paul Brown, Chuck Knox and Joe Gibbs as the only coaches to win the award three times. The Associated Press will announce its Coach of the Year on Saturday. Smith may have a tough time winning that one due to the work of Chuck Pagano and Bruce Arians in getting the Colts to the playoffs.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Joseph Person has a lengthy story on the background of Dave Gettleman. The new general manager has a lengthy background in scouting. That’s great and it’s very important. But Gettleman’s first real challenge will be getting the Panthers under the salary cap in the next six weeks or so.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Drew Brees started at quarterback and threw one touchdown pass in the NFC’s victory over the AFC in Sunday night’s Pro Bowl.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Receiver Vincent Jackson had a strong showing in the Pro Bowl, catching six passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

NFC South evening update

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
6:07
PM ET
Time for an evening look at Wednesday's headlines from around the NFC South.
  • John Manasso writes about some changes that could be coming for Atlanta’s defense now that Mike Nolan is the coordinator. It remains to be seen what the Falcons will do about potential free agents in cornerback Brent Grimes, linebacker Curtis Lofton and defensive end John Abraham. But I think it’s fair to suggest that no matter what happens with those three, the Falcons will be looking to improve their pass rush and play in the defensive backfield.
  • Here’s a list of highlights from the Saints’ 2011 season. No surprise that Drew Brees breaking Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season is No. 1. Even as a jaded journalist, I’m always going to remember I was in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for that game and got to witness history.
  • Here’s some potentially interesting news. The NFL, which forbids players from tweeting during regular-season games, will make an exception during the Pro Bowl. Since Atlanta receiver Roddy White will be there, his Twitter account could be more interesting than the all-star game.
  • With Indianapolis hiring Chuck Pagano as head coach, New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, who had been candidates, apparently will be staying with the Saints. Of course, Carmichael and Kromer could suddenly appear on Tampa Bay’s list, if they’re not already there.
  • Speaking of Tampa Bay’s search, the Bucs reportedly had a second interview with Mike Sherman Wednesday. Does that mean the Bucs are getting closer to finally making a hire? Not necessarily, the Bucs have been so deliberately slow in this search and pulled a total surprise when they unsuccessfully attempted to hire Chip Kelly. They could be closing in on Sherman, but they could be secretly meeting with someone else.
  • The Panthers interviewed Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson at the Senior Bowl. Again, I urge caution into reading too much into pre-draft interviews. But, Wilson to the Panthers with a late-round draft pick, carries some logic. The Panthers could be looking for a backup for Cam Newton. Derek Anderson is scheduled to be a free agent and the Panthers may cut Jimmy Clausen loose.
  • Richard Rodgers has been added as Carolina’s assistant special teams coach. He played with coach Ron Rivera in college at California.

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