NFC South: Coy Wire

Around the NFC South

March, 6, 2013
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Time for a look at some odds, ends and headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Recently released defensive end John Abraham issued a statement thanking the organization and fans. Abraham also said he wants to play several more years in the NFL. I know there are some fans out there that believe Abraham might come back to the Falcons at a lower price. I think that’s a real long shot. If this had been purely about money, the Falcons would have restructured Abraham’s contract instead of releasing him.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and former linebacker Coy Wire will be among the guest speakers at a career and franchise event in Atlanta on Wednesday.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Wide receivers coach Ricky Proehl said he’s looking forward to taking a more hands-on approach after spending last season as the assistant receivers coach.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Coach Sean Payton said he envisions veterans Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and Roman Harper remaining with the team. But Payton added that there are salary-cap concerns. I still think it’s possible the Saints will have to release at least one member of the trio.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Mark Cook runs through some potential defensive end targets in free agency. Most of these guys are older or are expected to cost a lot of money. The Bucs might be better off re-signing Michael Bennett.

Around the NFC South

March, 5, 2012
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Time for a quick trip through the headlines around the NFC South. This version will be heavy on the Saints and the scandal around their “bounty program."

Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams reportedly will meet in New York on Monday with NFL investigators about the bounty program. Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, already admitted to and apologized for running the bounty program for the Saints. I’d imagine he’ll get plenty of questions about if the program was used at his other NFL stops -- and reports say it was. I’d also admit Williams will be questioned about details of what went on in New Orleans, particularly when and how much coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis knew about the program.

Saints radio play-by-play man Jim Henderson weighs in with his thoughts on the situation. In addition to harsh penalties from the NFL, Henderson says Payton and Loomis could face severe repercussions from owner Tom Benson, who might not have been told the truth by his owner and general manager.

Former Atlanta linebacker Coy Wire said the Falcons do not have a bounty program. But Wire played for Williams when he was head coach in Buffalo and said the program was in place for the Bills.

The agent for Atlanta cornerback Brent Grimes said his client has no plans to sign the franchise tag at this time. Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said he plans to discussions with the goal of getting a long-term deal done with Grimes. That would make sense for both sides. Grimes will cost more than $10 million while he’s carrying the franchise tag. With a new contract, he can get long-term security and likely some guaranteed money over several years, but the team can get his cap figure for this year knocked down by several million.

The Buccaneers reportedly are close to re-signing offensive lineman Jeremy Zuttah to a contract extension that would prevent him from becoming a free agent. Makes sense. Zuttah was one of the few bright spots last year, he’s still young and he has versatility. He also played for new Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano in college at Rutgers.

The Bucs reportedly have found a quarterbacks coach for Josh Freeman. It’s Ron Turner, who last held the same position in Indianapolis and is a veteran NFL assistant. Turner’s brother, Norv, is coach of the San Diego Chargers. Although the move comes late, this is a significant one for the Bucs. Getting Freeman back on a positive track is a top priority for the new coaching staff and Turner and new offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan will be the two assistants given the responsibility of helping Freeman.

The Panthers aren't likely to use the franchise tag by the deadline at the end of Monday. Joseph Person writes that's because none of Carolina's potential free agents are big enough factors to warrant the tag.

Falcons make roster moves

September, 2, 2011
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The Atlanta Falcons just announced some roster moves and there are no major surprises.

There is, however, one big name with one big salary. That’s defensive end Chauncey Davis. As expected, his $3.75 million cap figure and the signing of Ray Edwards made Davis expendable. The Falcons will clear up the entire $3.75 million in salary-cap space.

There were a couple of other veterans released -- defensive tackle Trey Lewis and linebacker Coy Wire. The release of Lewis is a sign the Falcons firmly believe the Peria Jerry’s knee is now healthy. If there's anyone in the Bank of America Stadium offices reading this, please go tell Marty Hurney that Lewis has been released. He's better than any defensive tackle the Panthers have at the moment.

Wire’s release is a sign the Falcons are happy with some younger linebackers who can give them more speed on special teams.

The Falcons also waived tight end Marquez Branson, fullback Lucas Cox, center Paul Fenaroli, safety Matt Hansen, wide receiver Brandyn Harvey, running back Gartrell Johnson, defensive end Tom McCarthy, cornerback Kamaal McIlwain, center Ryan McMahon, safety Rafael Priest, defensive end Kiante Tripp, safety Suaesi Tuimaunei and linebacker Bear Woods. The team also reached an injury settlement with wide receiver Andy Strickland.
Veteran linebacker Mike Peterson reportedly has agreed to terms on a deal that will keep him with the Atlanta Falcons.

Not much of a surprise here. The Falcons have said all along they want to keep Peterson, who has spent the past two seasons with the team. The move solidifies the linebacking corps, a day after Stephen Nicholas also agreed to terms.

Peterson and rookie Sean Weatherspoon were the primary starters on the outside last season. Nicholas played a backup role, after starting the previous season. Curtis Lofton is set in the middle and the Falcons added Akeem Dent in the draft. The Falcons also have a dependable backup and special-teams player in Coy Wire.

Peterson is likely to remain a starter in the short term. But, if there are any signs of him slowing down, Nicholas and Dent could have a shot at a starting job.

Around the NFC South

May, 24, 2011
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Let's take a quick run through the NFC South headlines.

Atlanta coach Mike Smith told NFL Network the Falcons will not be appearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ this summer. Let’s clarify something here. The Falcons never were offered the choice to be featured on “Hard Knocks’’ this year, so they didn’t decline anything. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers previously declined an actual offer to appear on the show. The speculation about Atlanta grew out of control quickly after general manager Thomas Dimitroff suggested in a radio interview last week that the Falcons, who did decline the show’s offer two years ago, had reached a point in their development where they would consider things like “Hard Knocks."

New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who was on the verge of claiming a starting job before an injury last preseason, talks about his comeback.

Atlanta’s Coy Wire, Curtis Lofton and Kroy Biermann went swimming with whales on Monday.

New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had a breakthrough year last season, is also taking big strides off the field. Jenkins was the commencement speaker at a local high school.

The Bucs are looking to get their first player in double-digit sacks since Simeon Rice did it in 2005.

Around the NFC South

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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Time for a quick trip through the afternoon NFC South headlines.

New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins dropped by the team’s facility Tuesday and said he was the only player there, as far as he could tell. We still don’t know how the labor situation is going to sort itself out, but this was a very smart move by Jenkins. He’s scheduled for an NFC South-high $350,000 workout bonus. If I’m defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, who is next on the list with a $250,000 workout bonus, I’m at least showing up at the facility and saying I really have the urge to lift some weights or run.

Former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Chris Hovan has joined the coaching staff at Tampa’s Chamberlain High. That’s not far from where I live and, back in my early years in the newspaper business, I had the honor of covering the Chiefs and legendary coach Billy Turner, who retired a few years ago.

D. Orlando Ledbetter caught up with Atlanta linebacker Coy Wire, who is the player representative for the Falcons. Wire said there are no plans for the players to show up at the team’s facility in Flowery Branch.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney held his pre-draft press conference Tuesday. As you might expect, Hurney wouldn’t tip his hand about the No. 1 pick in Thursday’s draft. He also wouldn’t say much when asked about the future of wide receiver Steve Smith.

Around the NFC South

April, 24, 2011
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Time for a trip through the NFC South headlines.

Atlanta linebacker Coy Wire is doing something a little different than most players during the NFL lockout. Sure, he’s working out, just like everyone else. But he’s working to make life better for homeless people back in his home state, Pennsylvania.

Jeff Duncan writes that the New Orleans Saints, who hold the No. 24 overall pick, might be wise to trade down. Duncan’s basing that on the strong possibility the top defensive ends and linebackers will be gone at this point, even though I’m hearing the Saints aren’t giving serious consideration to taking a linebacker in the first round, unless Von Miller makes an epic fall out of the top five. Makes sense to trade down because New Orleans is light on picks later in the draft.

Here’s a mock draft that has the Falcons taking Maryland receiver Torrey Smith at No. 27. I think this is a stronger possibility than most people realize. I’m not sure the Falcons will be able to find a pass-rusher they like enough at this pick. More and more I’m hearing they could be serious about going with a receiver in the first round. Smith and Pittsburgh’s Jonathan Baldwin are the two guys who could be targets.

Tom Sorensen writes Carolina’s best draft was 10 years ago, the Class of 2001. That’s when the Panthers got Dan Morgan, Kris Jenkins, Steve Smith and Chris Weinke with their top four picks. Weinke didn’t exactly work out as George Seifert threw him to the wolves in a disastrous 2001 season. But that class was perhaps the only thing Seifert contributed in his Carolina days. Smith has been perhaps the best player in franchise history. Morgan could have held that title if he had just been able to stay healthy. Even Jenkins could have held that title, if he had stayed in shape, stayed healthy and found a way to be happy in Charlotte over the long term.

Scouts Inc.’s Gary Horton takes a look at needs for all the NFC South teams in this Insider piece Insider.

In this Insider piece Insider, Horton takes a big-picture look at each NFC South team.

Who are the NFC South union reps?

February, 20, 2011
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With the labor negotiations going on and a potential lockout looming if a deal isn’t completed by the end of the day on March 3, I decided to see who the representatives are from each NFC South team to the NFL Players Association.

Here’s the official link to the list on the union’s website.

I knew several off the top of my head. But there also have been several changes, and one division team suddenly lost its player rep. Atlanta's rep, safety Erik Coleman, recently was releasedd by the Falcons. Offensive lineman Tyson Clabo and linebacker Coy Wire are listed as the co-alternates, and one of them will take Coleman’s place. Interesting side note here, Clabo is a potential free agent.

Carolina’s rep is veteran kicker John Kasay. That’s very interesting, because Kasay and Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, who is leading the ownership part of the talks, might be as close as any player and owner in the league. The co-alternates after Kasay are wide receiver Steve Smith and punter Jason Baker. Makes you almost wish Kasay comes down with the flu for a few days so that Smith has to go to the negotiating room. Smith might not be able to get a deal done by himself, but asking the mercurial receiver to step into a room where people are supposed to be diplomatic sure might liven up the talks.

Contrary to popular belief, quarterback Drew Brees is not New Orleans’ player representative. That title officially is held by offensive lineman Jon Stinchcomb, and defensive end Will Smith is listed as the alternate. Brees was in the room for talks the day before the Super Bowl when Richardson allegedly made condescending comments to Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning. For the record, neither Brees or Manning are listed as representatives or alternates for their teams.

Tampa Bay’s rep is center Jeff Faine, with guard Davin Joseph and receiver Maurice Stovall listed as the co-alternates. Joseph’s scheduled to be a free agent, and there are some questions about Faine’s future with the team. He has a high salary and has been injury-prone since joining the Bucs.

Falcons make roster moves

February, 9, 2011
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As expected, the Atlanta Falcons are releasing safety Erik Coleman. They also have signed linebacker Coy Wire to a two-year contract, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Coleman became expendable after Thomas DeCoud and William Moore established themselves as solid starters this past season. Coleman was scheduled to count more than $3 million against a potential 2011 salary cap. But the Falcons will clear up about $2.4 million in cap space if a new labor agreement is reached and the rules for cap calculations on released players are done in a similar manner.

Wire has established himself as a valuable backup and special-teams player.

Ranking the NFC South linebackers

August, 27, 2010
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The linebackers are next in our series of NFC South position rankings and this one took a lot longer and was way more agonizing than our previous installments on safeties and cornerbacks.

It started right at the very top because this division has two linebackers I’d put up against anybody. Everyone knows Jonathan Vilma and Jon Beason are absolutely great. But how the heck do you pick between the two? I don’t want to overdramatize this, but my gut said this was like picking between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson or Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. You make a call, but there’s a part of you that feels like you’re slighting the other guy.

For all of these rankings, I rely on conversations with coaches, personnel guys and players to make my decision. When it came down to making the call between Beason and Vilma, I reached for the phone and made even more calls. The sources are anonymous, but I called some high-ranking people that I trust most on this one and they also were torn.

I took what they said, processed it and analyzed it and came to the decision that ultimately was mine. Here it is:
    [+] EnlargeJon Beason
    Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesJon Beason edged out New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma as best linebacker in the division by a hair.

  1. Jon Beason, Panthers. What it really came down to was this: I viewed Beason and Vilma as equals in virtually every sense based on the past. These rankings are based to some degree on projections for the 2010 season and that’s where I saw a slight edge emerge. Beason is moving from middle linebacker to the weak side and that’s very significant because coordinator Ron Meeks runs a Tampa Two defense. In that scheme, the weakside linebacker takes on huge importance. Think of Derrick Brooks in the Tampa Bay glory days. Beason might not have the supporting cast around him that Brooks did, but he’s going to have a chance to make more tackles and more big plays than he did in the middle.
  2. Jonathan Vilma, Saints. You couldn’t ask for a more complete middle linebacker and that’s a very important spot in New Orleans’ scheme. I don’t know that there’s a smarter defensive player in the division. Vilma also is a fantastic leader. Not sure if this works as a consolation prize for Vilma, but I’ll say something I never thought I would. As someone who was born and raised hearing and seeing Penn State called Linebacker U., I’ll admit Beason and Vilma have forced me to give the nod to Miami -- at least for the moment.
  3. Curtis Lofton, Falcons. This guy makes me worry that I’ll be trying to sort out a three-way race at this time next year. Lofton had a very good rookie year, got better in his second year and everybody I talk to believes he’s ready to step to the elite level this year. Much like Vilma, he’s a middle linebacker that can do it all.
  4. Geno Hayes, Buccaneers. This may come as a shock to some Tampa Bay fans who believe Barrett Ruud is the Buccaneers best linebacker. That’s no knock on Ruud and we’ll come to him very soon. But the people around One Buccaneer Place keep singing Hayes’ praises and they’re all saying he’s poised for a breakout season. Hayes is going to be an every-down linebacker. Now that the Bucs are back to playing the Tampa Two scheme, Hayes should be in position to make a lot of big plays.
  5. Barrett Ruud, Buccaneers. Ruud does what he’s supposed to do in this system. He makes tackles and he should make more this year because the Bucs did him a favor by putting so much emphasis on adding defensive tackles early in the draft. Ruud’s been wanting a contract extension for some time and it hasn’t happened. If he goes out and makes some big plays and shows he’s the leader of the defense, he might get his wish. But the middle linebacker in the true Tampa Two isn’t the most important guy on the field.
  6. Dan Connor, Panthers. Before you go bringing up the Penn State angle, you should know this. Two of my panelists urged me to put Connor ahead of Ruud. I went against them because Ruud has a track record and Connor really doesn’t. The Panthers are throwing him into the middle and we’ll see how he does. But Carolina wouldn’t have moved Beason to the weak side to take the spot of the injured Thomas Davis (he'd be high on this list if he were playing) unless the coaching staff had a lot of faith in Connor.
  7. [+] EnlargeJonathan Casillas
    David Butler II/US PresswireJonathan Casillas is replacing Scott Fujita on the outside of the Saints' linebacking corps.

  8. Jonathan Casillas, Saints. This is a bit of a leap, but I saw very good things out of Casillas in training camp and early in the preseason. He moves well and he tackles well and I don’t think the Saints are going to miss Scott Fujita all that much. It also won’t hurt Casillas that he’ll be lining up next to Vilma.
  9. Sean Weatherspoon, Falcons. He’s a rookie, but he’s incredibly talented. The Falcons say he can play the strong side or the weak side equally well. My guess is Weatherspoon ends up starting on the strong side and making an immediate contribution.
  10. Mike Peterson, Falcons. He’s a question mark as he nears the end of his career. But the Falcons believe Peterson has at least a year in him. Their sudden depth at linebacker might cut into his versatility.
  11. Stephen Nicholas, Falcons. He started last year and was average. With Nicholas and Coy Wire, the Falcons think they have quality linebacker depth. If Nicholas ends up starting again, the Falcons wouldn’t be all that upset.
  12. James Anderson, Panthers. He’ll get the first shot at the starting job on the strong side. Anderson’s been a quality backup and special-teams player and we’ll find out if he can do more than that.
  13. Quincy Black, Buccaneers. The Bucs have been praising Black just as much as Hayes. But there’s one difference. Hayes will stay on the field with Ruud when the Bucs go to their nickel package.
  14. Scott Shanle, Saints. A very dependable veteran and he helped the Saints win the Super Bowl last season. But Shanle’s skills as a run defender might be starting to erode.
  15. Jamar Williams, Panthers. While Anderson will open as the starter on the strong side, he hasn’t really distanced himself from Williams. If Anderson stumbles at all, the Panthers won’t hesitate to start Williams.
Previous position rankings:

Falcons release LB Miles

August, 25, 2009
8/25/09
6:02
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

The Falcons just announced they have released linebacker Edmond Miles.

Although Miles had some past NFL experience with the Dolphins and Giants, he wasn't making much progress in a linebacker corps that has plenty of depth. After starters Curtis Lofton, Mike Peterson and Stephan Nicholas, the Falcons have quality veteran depth with Coy Wire and Jamie Winborn.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- Just finished interviews after the morning session of Atlanta's minicamp.

I had a one-on-one with quarterback Matt Ryan and I'll be posting a column on him later this afternoon. I've got to transcribe the tape and write the column, but I wanted to share a few quick observations from this morning's practice with you first.

Sometimes you can tell a lot by who works with the first team in the first minicamp practice and sometimes you can't. For what it's worth there were a few interesting first-team guys as the Falcons lined up for team drills. Maligned defensive end Jamaal Anderson's still working with the first team. Kroy Biermann lined up as the other starter, but that's because John Abraham, who was in attendance, was held out of practice.

The interesting thing at linebacker was that Stephen Nicholas lined up on the strong side with the first team and veteran Coy Wire worked with the second unit. I'm thinking the Falcons want to give Nicholas, who was dealing with some family issues last season, a shot at winning the starting job.

In the secondary, Chris Houston and Brent Grimes ran as the first team corners and Erik Coleman was paired at safety with second-year pro Thomas DeCoud. Second-round pick William Moore is going to compete with DeCoud for a starting job, but the Falcons started Moore off with the second team.

They did the same with first-round pick Peria Jerry at defensive tackle. Trey Lewis worked with the first team, but it's probably only a matter of time before Jerry's in that spot.

Offensively, there weren't many changes. The offensive line is intact from last year and center Todd McClure, who spent the early part of the offseason at home in Louisiana, was here. McClure's been taking part in conditioning work at the team's facility for the past two weeks.

Harry Douglas rotated in a bit on the first team with receivers Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. In talking with some people within the organization, it sounds like the Falcons are expecting Jenkins to take on a big role this year.

New tight end Tony Gonzalez got plenty of work and seems to already have some chemistry with Ryan. Not sure how much to read into this, but the Falcons mixed Jerious Norwood in with starting running back Michael Turner quite a bit.

All right, that's all for now. I'll be back with the Ryan column in a few hours and I'll be back tonight with more notes from the afternoon practice, which starts at 4:15.

Mailbag: Atlanta Falcons edition

April, 28, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

It's time to talk about the Atlanta Falcons in our post-draft series of team-by-team mailbags.

Casey in Atlanta writes: What's up, Pat. I have like the Jerry pick, and the Gonzalez move was outstanding. Arguably, neither addition is as big as the Petersen pick-up. Still, my main concern (for the past year now) is when is Jamaal Anderson going to be cut/ released/ retired/ traded/ placed on practice squad/ rocketed to Mars, etc.?

Pat Yasinskas: A lot of Atlanta fans are wondering the same thing. But the Falcons aren't going to give up on Anderson after just two years. Mike Smith and his staff still see some potential and will try to coach it out of him in training camp and the preseason. If it doesn't start to surface, you may see Chauncey Davis move into the starting role and rookie Lawrence Sidbury could start off as a nice situational pass-rusher.


Ryan in Marietta writes: Pat, any thoughts on the falcons signing leroy hill now that the seahawks have made him available? they didnt really solve their need for depth at linebacker with the draft so he would be a good pick-up.

Pat Yasinskas: You never rule anything out, but the Falcons are intent on building their core through the draft (veterans like Tony Gonzalez and Mike Peterson are being used to fill holes for a year or two). Hill would qualify as a core player and his price tag may be more than the Falcons want to pay.


John in parts unknown writes: Pat, do you think that Coach Smith may use Lawrence Sidbury (I'll offer a nickname, "L Sid") in his 3-4 packages as a pass rusher off the edge? He's pretty darn fast in the "10", I hear. Thanks,

Pat Yasinskas: Tell you what, I like the Sidbury pick a lot. The guy has lots of upside and I think Smith and his coaching staff can make him into a player. He may be just a pass-rusher initially, but the Falcons wouldn't have taken him if they didn't think he could grow into an every-down end.


Allen in New York writes: Hey Pat, do you think Steve Nicholis is ready to start for the Falcons? The Falcons didn't really add anyone in the draft that could challenge him. Do you think it will be a training camp battle between him and Coy Wire?

Pat Yasinskas: I think Stephen Nicholas will get a long look in the preseason. Coy Wire did a nice job at strong-side linebacker late last season and may keep the starting job. But the Atlanta coaches are high on Nicholas and he could get a shot if he has a good training camp.


John in Atlanta writes: your blog has kept me alive this offseason, great job pat. I am satisfied with the falcons draft but our secondary and defense as a whole is now VERY young. this is obviously a good thing but with the falcons facing a brutal schedule how well do you see our ripe defense doing against the nfc east, tom brady, jay cutler and of course the rest of the nfc south?

Pat Yasinskas: Valid question. The coaching staff may be higher on the secondary than the rest of us. They should know what they have and they're counting on Chris Houston to be their lead corner with Brent Grimes or Von Hutchins on the other side. Houston continues to improve and Grimes and Hutchins aren't bad. I think the big question is at strong safety, where rookie William Moore and Thomas DeCoud will compete. Yes, this secondary might not look great on paper. But Smith got the secondary to hold up pretty well last season. He's brought in some younger legs and will try to help the defensive backs out by providing a pass rush that goes beyond John Abraham. One other thing I should mention: Assistant coach Emmitt Thomas works with the secondary and he's one of the best in the business.

Monday's mailbag

March, 23, 2009
3/23/09
1:45
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Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Time for a quick trip through the mailbag as we wait for news out of the NFL owners' meeting.

Shane in Hickory, NC writes: Hey Pat, I just wanted to know if you can tell me when you guys are going to do the "On the Clock" series for the Panthers... they don't have a first rounder right now and I know that's the order they're going in, so when are we going to get it?? Thanks!

Pat Yasinskas: Hang loose just a bit. Right now, we've got the Panthers and Cowboys, who don't have first-round picks to run later in April as part of the On the Clock series. But, hey, there's always the possibility we'll have to shuffle that if the Panthers trade for a first-round pick.


Tim in MN writes: Hey Pat, I like the blog. I am wondering two things, what would you think of the Bucs getting Derek Anderson to give Luke some competition, what would they have to give up for that? Second, who are the three most likely/available DT's the Bucs could snag before the draft?

Pat Yasinskas: Let's assume that the Broncos don't trade Jay Cutler or they do, but the price tag is too steep for the Bucs. I think Cleveland, where the Browns have Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn and could shop one for trade, would be a logical spot for the Bucs to look. The price tag for one of the Cleveland quarterbacks would be a lot cheaper than Cutler. The Bucs have said all along they want competition for Luke McCown. Whether it's Cutler, Anderson, Quinn or some other quarterback, I think the Bucs will have a legitimate challenger to McCown before they go to training camp. As for defensive tackle, it sure sounds like Shaun Rogers could be available. Tank Johnson's already available. That's about it as far as "names," right now.


Sean in White Plains, NY writes: Pat - After reading your column about the Falcons options at LB, one play that you didn't mention was Robert James, who was drafted last year but didn't play due to injury. Is he another option at LB or are they waiting to see how he comes back from the injury?

Pat Yasinskas: Robert James should be in the mix for a backup job and a role on special teams. But I think Mike Peterson, Coy Wire and Stephen Nicholas are the guys the Falcons are looking at now for the starting jobs at outside linebacker.


Adam in Pensacola writes: I believe everybody will agree that the New Orleans secondary did not really do what they needed to but in their defense half of the starters were out with injuries. I believe New Orleans have the talent to have a top ten secondary so long as they stay healthy. I think they should look to trade up and maybe get Aaron Curry or Brian cushing to compliment the already talented Vilma. A lot of mock drafts have New Orleans taking cornerback. What do you think?

Pat Yasinskas: I like what the Saints have done so far with their secondary, bringing in cornerback Jabari Greer and safety Darren Sharper. I think getting some of the injured guys, like Tracy Porter, back should help a lot. I think the Saints now have the talent to have a good secondary. They still could draft a defensive back at No. 14, but they have other options and needs. I don't see them moving up in the draft, simply because they have only three other draft picks as ammunition. In fact, a trade down is more likely and that would allow the Saints to add a pick or two. If they stay at No. 14, I think a linebacker like Brian Cushing is a possibility as well as a defensive back. But don't rule out a defensive lineman or a running back.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

There's a pretty wide assumption out there that the Atlanta Falcons will use an early draft pick on a linebacker in April.

It could happen, but I'm not so sure it's the given thing many fans expect. After letting outside linebackers Keith Brooking and Michael Boley walk through free agency, the only sure thing is the Falcons have Curtis Lofton as their starting middle linebacker.

But the roster is not as depleted as you might think. As Daniel Cox points out, the Falcons are high on linebacker Stephen Nicholas, who will be entering his third season. Nicholas has been mostly a backup linebacker and special teams player in his first two seasons, but I keep hearing word out of Atlanta that the Falcons think he can at least be in the mix for a starting job next season.

Again, there could be more coming in the draft, but the Falcons already have some decent options. Nicholas has some good speed and young legs. The Falcons also signed veteran Mike Peterson, who has a history with coach Mike Smith, and Coy Wire replaced Boley as the starter on the strong side late last season.

Peterson's history was mostly as a middle linebacker, but the Falcons are planning to play him on the outside. Even if the Falcons don't add a linebacker in the early rounds, they've already set up some decent competition with Nicholas, Wire and Peterson competing for two starting jobs.

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