NFC South: Darnell Dinkins
Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Brian Williams, WR Marty Booker, QB Chris Redman.
Potential restricted free agents: RB Jason Snelling, RB Jerious Norwood, P Michael Koenen, CB Brent Grimes, OL Quinn Ojinnaka, T Tyson Clabo, G Harvey Dahl.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: General manager Thomas Dimitroff repeatedly has used the phrase “fiscally responsible’’ when talking about the approach to free agency. In other words, the Falcons aren’t going to go on some wild spending spree. This organization prefers to build through the draft. But history has shown the Falcons aren’t afraid to make a strategic strike or two in free agency. They have a huge need at defensive end and that’s a tough spot to get guaranteed production from when you’ve got the No. 19 overall pick in the draft. The Falcons aren’t likely to target elite free-agent DE Julius Peppers, but you could see them make a move for another pass-rusher.
Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Julius Peppers, WR Muhsin Muhammad, QB Josh McCown, QB A.J. Feeley.
Potential restricted free agents: LB Thomas Davis, QB Matt Moore, TE Jeff King, CB Richard Marshall, DT Louis Leonard, LB James Anderson, DT Tank Tyler, CB C.J. Wilson.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: Owner Jerry Richardson is very concerned about the uncertain labor situation and that may keep him from spending big money in free agency. The Panthers avoided a $20 million hit by not placing the franchise tag on Peppers, but that doesn’t mean all of that money is going to be used in free agency. The Panthers traditionally are a team that builds through the draft and they didn’t sign a single UFA last year. But look for at least a few smaller moves because coach John Fox has to win this year and needs to improve this roster, especially on the defensive line, at wide receiver and perhaps at quarterback.
New Orleans Saints
Potential unrestricted free agents: QB Mark Brunell, S Darren Sharper, TE Dan Campbell, TE Darnell Dinkins, DT Kendrick Clancy, LB Scott Fujita, S Pierson Prioleau, LS Jason Kyle.
Potential restricted free agents: G Jahri Evans, RB Mike Bell, RB Pierre Thomas, WR Lance Moore, TE David Thomas, T Jermon Bushrod, S Roman Harper, S Usama Young, DT Remi Ayodele, DT Anthony Hargrove, T Zach Strief, S Chris Reis, WR Courtney Roby, LB Marvin Mitchell.
Franchise player: None
What to expect: As a final-four team the Saints aren’t allowed to sign any unrestricted free agents unless they lose one of their own at a similar price tag. That’s likely to keep the Saints from being big players in free agency. But the good news is they don’t have a lot of dramatic needs. They will have to keep a protective eye on some of their restricted free agents, who may draw interest from other teams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Potential unrestricted free agents: WR Antonio Bryant, DE Jimmy Wilkerson, S Will Allen, LB Angelo Crowell, S Jermaine Phillips.
Potential restricted free agents: RB Cadillac Williams, LB Barrett Ruud, T Donald Penn, WR Maurice Stovall, T Jeremy Trueblood.
Franchise player: None.
What to expect: The Bucs haven’t spent a lot of money in free agency in recent years and they’ve been sending out signals this year won’t be much different. They’re focused on the 10 draft picks they hold. But the Bucs could pull a small surprise or two. They’ve got a restless fan base and more needs than those draft picks can handle. A couple of signings in free agency could energize the fan base and help the rebuilding process. The Bucs really need a No. 1 wide receiver and they’re not truly positioned to get that in the draft.
Only one player, reserve running back Lynell Hamilton (ankle), did not participate in practice. One of the bigger question marks of late has been tight end Jeremy Shockey’s knee injury, but he practiced on a limited basis along with cornerback Randall Gay (foot), cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), defensive end Bobby McCray (back, ankle), safety Pierson Prioleau (quadriceps), receiver Courtney Roby (knee), safety Darren Sharper (knee), defensive end Will Smith (groin), tackle Zach Strief (shoulder) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma (knee).
The Saints have a bunch of other players on the injury report, but they all practiced fully Wednesday -- tackle Jermon Bushrod (thumb), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (ankle) tight end Darnell Dinkins (foot), guard Jahri Evans (foot), linebacker Scott Fujita (knee), cornerback Jabari Greer (groin), receiver Robert Meachem (ankle), receiver Lance Moore (ankle) and cornerback Tracy Porter (knee).
Both teams did a real good job of filling it up. In the case of the Colts, the report might mean a little more because they actually practiced Wednesday. The Saints did not practice Wednesday, but the league required them to fill on an estimate on who would have practiced (and how much) if they actually had practice.
Here’s the guesstimate the Saints turned in: Did not participate -- CB Randall Gay (foot), RB Lynell Hamilton (ankle), S Roman Harper (shoulder), CB Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), DE Bobby McCray (back), WR Courtney Roby (knee), S Darren Sharper (knee), TE Jeremy Shockey (knee), DE Will Smith (groin), T Zach Strief (shoulder), RB Pierre Thomas (ribs) and LB Jonathan Vilma (knee). LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE -- T Jermon Bushrod (thumb), LB Jonathan Casillas (ankle), TE Darnell Dinkins (foot), DT Sedrick Ellis (knee), G Jahri Evans (toe), LB Scott Fujita (knee), C Jonathan Goodwin (knee), CB Jabari Greer (hip, groin), WR Robert Meachem (ankle), WR Lance Moore (ankle), S Pierson Prioleau (quadriceps) and S Usama Young (hip).
Like I said, don’t read too much into this. It’s only hypothetical and the game is still a long way off.
The biggest name on the inactive list is rookie cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, but that’s not a huge surprise. Jenkins had been questionable with a hamstring injury.
Also inactive for the Saints are linebacker Anthony Waters, guard Jamar Nesbit, tight end Darnell Dinkins, tight end Adrian Arrington and defensive end Paul Spicer. Chase Daniel is the third quarterback.
McAllister was signed yesterday after sitting out all season. He’s expected to lead the Saints onto the field as a ceremonial gesture. Defensive back Chris Reis, linebacker Anthony Waters, guard Jamar Nesbit, tight end Darnell Dinkins, tight end Tory Humphrey and defensive end Paul Spicer also are inactive to the Saints. Chase Daniel is the third quarterback.
Arizona’s inactives are quarterback Brian St. Pierre, fullback Nehemiah Broughton, safety Rashad Johnson, linebacker Gerald Hayes, offensive lineman Herman Johnson, defensive end Jeremy Clark, receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Stephen Spach.
NEW ORLEANS -- The best thing you can do when you get to a place you haven’t been before is act like you have.
That is precisely what the New Orleans Saints did Monday night.
A franchise that’s never been to a Super Bowl and a quarterback who has been accused of not winning big games went out and destroyed the closest thing we’ve seen to an NFL dynasty in recent times. The 38-17 victory over the New England Patriots brought the usual company line about it being “only one win’’ from every corner of the locker room.
Except for this:
“It only counts for one win on the stat sheet,’’ quarterback Drew Brees said immediately before veering from the teamwide game plan for the only time all night. “But, emotionally, those types of wins can mean a little bit more.’’
Ding, ding, ding. There, somebody admitted the obvious. This truly was more than a win. This was proof that the Saints are for real. This is the kind of win that builds confidence.
This was the kind of win this franchise really never has had before. Yeah, those wins against the Jets and Giants looked real nice earlier in the season. But that was before we found out the Jets and Giants weren’t all they were cracked up to be.
This … this was the New England Patriots (7-4). "Monday Night Football." Bill Belichick. The Saints aren’t supposed to win games like this and they sure aren’t supposed to totally dominate in games like this.
But they did. Get used to it because the Saints really are different.
“That’s confidence … confidence in the guys I’m throwing to and the guys up front blocking,’’ Brees said on a night in which he threw five touchdown passes to five different receivers against a head coach who just might be the greatest defensive mind ever. “I feel like that way a lot.’’
That’s the big thing -- Brees feels it and the entire team feels confident. Even the defense. Even when starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter weren’t able to play because of injuries and even after replacement starter Randall Gay had to leave early with a leg injury.
And even when the Saints had to turn to veteran cornerbacks Mike McKenzie and Chris McAlister, who weren’t even on the roster two weeks ago, and rookie Malcolm Jenkins to stop Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
If you didn’t know any better and just flipped on the game, you would have thought McKenzie was a Pro Bowler in his mid-20s and not a guy the Saints let go after last season because he was old and had been through a couple of major knee injuries. McKenzie was out there on special teams and he was covering Moss and intercepting a pass.
“That’s all part of being in the NFL,’’ McKenzie said.
True, but McKenzie wasn’t in the NFL until he returned to the Saints, who switched defensive coordinators and schemes since his departure. He went through precisely four days of practice.
It wasn’t just McKenzie, McAlister and Jenkins. Defensive end Will Smith had 1.5 sacks and veteran safety Darren Sharper had his eighth interception.
“We obviously didn’t play up to their level,’’ Brady said.
Think about that statement and all its implications for a second. The New England Patriots did not play up to the level of the New Orleans Saints.
Those words never had been uttered before -- at least not this decade and at least not seriously. Now, those words have been screamed by every one of the 70,000 or so fans at the Superdome, who actually appeared to force Brady into two timeouts with their noise.
And it goes even deeper than that.
Who was the real defensive genius in the Superdome? New Orleans coordinator Gregg Williams. Not Belichick.
Belichick couldn’t figure out any answers for Brees. But, then again, I don’t think anyone could. Brees was perfect -- literally. He had a 158.3 passer rating, which is technically a perfect passer rating.
After the game, a reporter started to ask Saints coach Sean Payton about what happened on one of Brees’ touchdown passes.
“Which touchdown pass?’’ Payton asked.
He appeared to be very serious. There were plenty to choose from. There was that 75-yarder to a wide-open Devery Henderson.
“I couldn’t believe I was that wide open,’’ Henderson said.
There were the scoring strikes to Robert Meachem, Marques Colston and a screen pass that running back Pierre Thomas turned into a touchdown. And, then, there was the pass to Darnell Dinkins.
Yes that Darnell Dinkins -- the third-string tight end who is on the roster just to block. The guy who had not caught a pass this season before Monday night.
“That’s what we expect,’’ said Colston, who had four catches for 121 yards. “Drew’s going to find the open man.’’
There’s more truth in that than you realize. Maybe it’s time for us all to start expecting this kind of thing from the Saints. They are 11-0 and they’re no longer a novelty.
They’re for real and they know it. Now, all of us know it.
“I don’t think about how good we’ve been,’’ Brees said. “I think about how good we can be.’’
Pretty amazing, but it’s not a record. There are several teams who have had 20 or 21 players score in a season. With five games left, the Saints can chase that.
So far tonight, Drew Brees has thrown touchdown passes to Dinkins, receivers Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson and running back Pierre Thomas.
NEW ORLEANS – Just got the inactives and we’ve got a couple of points of interest for the Saints.
Kicker Garrett Hartley, who has finished serving a four-game suspension, is inactive. That means veteran John Carney will handle the kicking duties. Also, defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy, who had returned to practice this week after an injury, will not play. Remi Ayodele will continue to start in his place.
The other inactives for the Saints are cornerback Leigh Torrence, running back Lynell Hamilton, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, center Nick Leckey and tight end Darnell Dinkins. Chase Daniel will be the third quarterback.
For the Giants, Ramses Barden, Danny Ware, Aaron Ross, Michael Boley, Adam Koets, Guy Whimper, Clint Smith and Chris Canty are inactive.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Wednesday’s injury reports are coming in from around the NFC South.
Carolina’s Chris Harris, Sherrod Martin, James Stewart and Nick Hayden all missed practice, while Everette Brown, Charles Johnson and Jeff Otah were limited. Atlanta’s Jason Elam and William Moore were limited. The Falcons also listed Peria Jerry on the injury report, but he participated fully in practice.
Tampa Bay’s E.J. Biggers, Jeff Faine and Kyle Moore did not practice. Antonio Bryant and John Gilmore were limited.
In New Orleans, Jammal Brown, Darnell Dinkins, Jermon Bushrod, Kendrick Clancy, Tracey Porter and Jeremy Shockey did not practice and Roman Harper was limited. Running back Pierre Thomas, who sat out the opener, participated fully.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas
Throughout the day, my e-mail fills up with a lot of things that don’t quite qualify to stand alone as items on this blog. But I’ve got a lot of them today, so I’m going to throw them all together and give you some quick odds and ends.
Just a few days after claiming him off waivers from Atlanta, the Bucs have cut defensive back William Middleton. They filled his roster spot by activating Kyle Arrington off the practice squad.
Officially, the Saints listed Pierre Thomas, Darnell Dinkins and Jammal Brown as guys who did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
It’s been suggest many places before that Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow marches to a different drummer. We got a new example of that Thursday when Winslow came out to practice in full pads while the rest of the Bucs didn’t. “Kellen is a full-pad guy,’’ coach Raheem Morris said.” He wants to be as ready as he can be for Sunday. Sometimes, we've got some players, they feel things and they've got a natural progression of things. He wants to get used to Florida and he wants to embrace the heat. He may be buying into what I say a little too much.’’
Yeah, Winslow did go to college at Miami and has only been working out in 95-degree weather in Tampa every day since July.
Officially, the Bucs listed E.J. Biggers, John Gilmore, Adam Heyward and Kyle Moore as the guys who did not practice. More significantly, starting receivers Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant were listed as being limited in practice.
Safety William Moore was the only Atlanta player who did not practice Thursday. Yes, that means John Abraham was back at practice.
In a radio interview, Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff admitted he’s tired of hearing about the Falcons never having back-to-back winning seasons. Here’s a thought: Go out and do it.
Current New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees talked with former New Orleans quarterback Bobby Hebert on WWL Radio in New Orleans and said last year’s easy victory against Detroit doesn’t mean much.
METAIRIE, La. -- Saints tight end Dan Campbell will have knee surgery Monday, but is expected to be back in time for the start of training camp.
Coach Sean Payton said Campbell will have arthroscopic surgery to repair damage to his medial collateral ligament. Campbell will miss the rest of the team's organized activities. Campbell wasn't the only tight end injured in Friday's minicamp. Darnell Dinkins sprained his ankle. Payton said he wasn't aware of the severity of Dinkins' injury.
In other injury news, linebacker Dan Morgan, who's coming out of retirement, strained a calf muscle early in the afternoon session and left practice. That might not come as a surprise to those who have followed Morgan's star-crossed career.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Couple of quick notes on the New Orleans Saints.
The team got even deeper at tight end Wednesday, agreeing to terms with free-agent Darnell Dinkins on a one-year contract. Dinkins comes from the Cleveland Browns and played for the Giants and Ravens before that. Don't look for this guy to cut into Jeremy Shockey's territory as a pass catcher. Dinkins has 25 catches in an eight-year career. But he is a strong blocker and special teams player.