NFC South: free agency 2010

Bucs start building WR depth

March, 8, 2010
Start the Super Bowl parade out on Dale Mabry Highway. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who desperately needed a wide receiver, have added one.

Oh wait, they added Reggie Brown. No, the Bucs haven’t landed a No. 1 wide receiver to replace Antonio Bryant yet. But they did trade a 2011 sixth-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Brown. But, hey, it’s the first real acquisition the Bucs have made this offseason and it at least comes at a position of need.

Unlike Bryant, Brown doesn’t come with baggage, other than the fact he was a high pick in the second round in 2005 and never came close to playing up to his potential for the Eagles. At absolute best, Brown might have a chance to be the No. 2 receiver in Tampa Bay.

Houston trade now official

March, 8, 2010
D. Orlando Ledbetter reports the much-anticipated trade of Atlanta cornerback Chris Houston to Detroit has finally happened.

The Falcons get a sixth-round pick in return. The deal also includes the two teams swapping picks in the fifth round. Atlanta now has the second pick in the fifth round and Detroit will take the 18th pick in the fifth round.

Houston became expendable after the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson and re-signed Brian Williams. They also have Christopher Owens, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson at cornerback.
The New Orleans Saints have just been hit with their first key loss from their Super Bowl team. The Cleveland Browns announced they have signed free-agent linebacker Scott Fujita.

I don’t know contract details yet, but it’s safe to say the Browns paid more than the Saints were willing to for Fujita. There seemed to be mutual interest in Fujita returning to the Saints, but only at a reasonable price.

Fujita will turn 31 in April and he dealt with some injury problems last season. Although there is no automatic replacement in place, the Saints have some options in young linebackers Marvin Mitchell, Jonathan Casillas and Troy Evans. All got a fair amount of playing time last season.

The Saints also drafted Stanley Arnoux last year, but he was injured in minicamp and missed the entire season. Arnoux is expected to return this year and could be a factor.

But it remains very possible the Saints could use one of their early draft picks to find a potential replacement for Fujita.
ESPN's John Clayton is reporting the Falcons and cornerback Dunta Robinon have agreed to terms on a six-year deal. They’re going to put the finishing touches on the contract language over the next few hours, but this is basically done.

We’ve known this was coming most of the day and it comes soon after the Falcons prevented Brian Williams from becoming a free agent by giving him a contract extension. Suddenly, the Atlanta secondary looks a lot better than it did at the end of last season.

But what’s it going to look like on opening day?

Well, Robinson’s got the big contract, so pencil him in as the No. 1 cornerback. Take Williams, Chris Houston, Christopher Owens, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson and throw them into competition throughout camp and see who steps up. The Falcons were happy with the play of safety Thomas DeCoud in his first year as a starter last season, but not exactly thrilled with the play of veteran safety Erik Coleman. They’ve got William Moore, who missed his rookie season with an injury, ready to step into Coleman’s spot.

One other key point, the Robinson signing means the Falcons now can turn their attention to the front seven in the upcoming draft. They’ve got needs at defensive end and outside linebacker and could fill those needs with their first few picks.

Update on Robinson and Falcons

March, 5, 2010
Just wanted to give you a little update on Dunta Robinson’s visit to Atlanta. I’ve been saying this deal will happen, barring some unforeseen development, but I’ve been saying that an official announcement won’t come for another day or two.

The first part of that remains true – this deal is almost certain to happen. But I’m now hearing that things are progressing so well that we could have an official announcement as early as tonight.

Also, for those Atlanta fans thinking Robinson is only the start of a free-agent frenzy by the Falcons, stop it. The word I’m hearing out of Flowery Branch, Ga., is that the Robinson signing will be the only really big one for the Falcons.

Yeah, they could sign a few mid-level free agents, but they’re going to stick to their plan of building primarily through the draft.
Our John Clayton is reporting the Bears and Julius Peppers are in the final stages of putting a contract together.

My take on this one? There are no guarantees when it comes to Peppers, but I think he put himself in the best possible situation.

Peppers had a very good career in Carolina, but never was able to dominate as consistently as fans and the Panthers would have liked. More importantly, Peppers never was able to dominate as consistently as he would have liked.

Say what you want about him taking plays off – there might have been some underlying reasons for all that. But, in his own unique way, I believe Peppers is a guy with a lot of pride. From the limited hints he gave out, I think part of the reason he wanted out of Carolina was because he hadn’t achieved greatness there and felt he never would.

I believe there were some issues between Peppers and the coaching staff through the years. At some point along the way, I think he stopped buying completely into the program and was resisting the message he was getting from the franchise – maybe even running away from what the Panthers wanted him to be. That’s not a fun position to be in.

People say John Fox is a players’ coach and I think that’s true to some degree. But I don’t think, at least in recent years, the relationship between Fox (and his staff) and Peppers was as good as either side would have liked.

Think it might have scored a few points when Lovie Smith flew into Charlotte last night just to fly back to Chicago with Peppers? Think the prospect of playing for defensive line guru Rod Marinelli might have been very intriguing to Peppers?

All that had to weigh heavily to a guy who was coming out of a situation where he wasn’t happy. This is a chance for a fresh start for Peppers and I’m not just talking about on the football field.

For most people, being Julius Peppers in Charlotte would have been a dream come true. But Peppers isn’t like most people. He’s shy and extremely private. He despises being the center of attention. Pure geography dictated that Peppers was under the microscope the whole time he was in Charlotte. After all, he was a local kid and a No. 2 overall pick.

Peppers is going to be under the microscope in Chicago – for a day or two. That could be a big difference and could be a reason why this new marriage may work. Chicago’s very different from Charlotte and that’s not meant as a slap or a compliment to either city. It’s just a fact.

Chicago is a city where they’ve also got the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks. There are a lot of spotlights out there and one will shine on Peppers, but it won’t be nearly as big or constant as the one he had on him in Charlotte. The Panthers really are the only game in Charlotte. NASCAR'S important, but the NBA franchises that have come and gone and come again aren't nearly as important as the Panthers.

Even in the Bears’ locker room, there are lightning rods (Brian Urlacher and Jay Cutler, just to name two) to take attention away from Peppers.

Yeah, I know this all may sound weird. But, like I’ve said, Peppers isn’t like most people.

Maybe, by finally getting out of the intense spotlight, Peppers can truly shine.

Odds & ends from overnight

March, 5, 2010
Some odds and ends from overnight around the NFC South.

Cornerback Dunta Robinson is visiting the Falcons today. Barring something drastic happening, he will sign with the Falcons. From what I’ve heard, don’t expect an official announcement today, but it should come sometime over the weekend.

The Bucs have expressed some interest in running back Willie Parker.

The Bucs have shown some interest in Houston receiver Kevin Walter. He’s not a No. 1 guy, but is an ideal No. 2. If Tampa Bay gets him, this would not bode well for Michael Clayton.

Scott Fowler writes that Carolina releasing Jake Delhomme was a big mistake. Fowler was my co-worker for nearly nine years and he remains a good friend, but I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with my friend here. As much as I respect Delhomme, this was a move that had to be made. Delhomme’s performance last year was so disastrous that the Panthers truly could not bring him back, even as a backup.

Bears putting press on Peppers

March, 5, 2010
Julius Peppers hasn’t seen a full-court press since he was playing basketball at the University of North Carolina. But he’s seeing one in the middle of the early morning hours Friday.

It’s coming from the Chicago Bears, who appear to be the early leader to sweep Peppers away from the Carolina Panthers, the only team Peppers ever has played for. Peppers has made it clear he wants out of Carolina and the Bears are rolling out red carpets.

The Chicago Tribune reports Bears coach Lovie Smith arrived in Charlotte and will accompany Peppers back to Chicago for his official visit later Friday. Look for the Panthers to try to not let Peppers out of the building without agreeing to a contract.

Peppers has implied he never felt he could reach his potential with the Panthers and there long have been conflicts with the coaching staff. The Bears are going to try to use Smith’s personality and the reputation of defensive line coach Rod Marinelli to convince Peppers that Chicago is the place where he can reach that potential.

It also doesn’t hurt that Chicago is a major market and the Bears have superstars like Brian Urlacher and lightning rods like Jay Cutler to draw media attention from Peppers. It also doesn’t hurt that Chicago has plenty of other sports stars. Part of Peppers’ problem in Carolina was that he didn’t like being under the magnifying glass that came with being a local guy and the face of the franchise.

Redman staying with Falcons

March, 4, 2010
ESPN's John Clayton is reporting that the Atlanta Falcons and Chris Redman have agreed to a new contract, which prevents him from becoming an unrestricted free agent.

It’s a two-year deal worth more than $5 million and it makes sense on every level. Redman was decent when playing for an injured Matt Ryan last year. He knows Atlanta’s offense well. He also gets along very well with Ryan and provides another set of eyes and ears for him.

The Falcons also have John Parker Wilson, who they think can develop into a quality backup. But he’s still a project at this point and Redman gives them a quality backup.
We always talk about how short careers are in the NFL and how rosters turn over quickly. But those ideas really just hit home with me.

I covered the 2003 Carolina Panthers, the team that made the franchise's only Super Bowl appearance. With tonight’s news that Jake Delhomme is gone and the fact Muhsin Muhammad and Julius Peppers will be free agents in less than an hour, I just grabbed a Carolina roster and did some math.

According to my calculations, that leaves the Panthers with only five guys from that Super Bowl team. They are kicker John Kasay, receiver Steve Smith, fullback Brad Hoover, offensive tackle Jordan Gross and cornerback Dante Wesley.

Kasay, Smith and Hoover were key contributors on that team and Gross, although only a rookie, had an instant impact. Wesley played a minimal role on special teams that year and left the Panthers for Chicago in 2006 before returning in 2007.
The cost of releasing quarterback Jake Delhomme, which now has been confirmed by ESPN's John Clayton, won’t be cheap for the Carolina Panthers.

As Andrew Brandt reported last season, the structure of Delhomme’s contract means the quarterback is guaranteed a $12.7 million payout if the Panthers didn’t exercise a couple of options. Apparently, they’re not doing that and they’re on the hook for $12.7 million.

Good thing there’s not a salary cap this year. Also, I think it's a safe bet that the Panthers asked Delhomme to retire and end things gracefully. But Delhomme is a competitor and apparently thinks he still can play.
Told you I wasn’t sure Jake Delhomme would remain on Carolina’s roster. is reporting the Panthers will release Delhomme. Not a huge surprise. Although Delhomme took the Panthers to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship Games, he had a disastrous 2009 season. He also previously had Tommy John elbow surgery.

Handing the team back to Delhomme would not have been a strong signal to the rest of the players from coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney. Although the pair hold Delhomme in high regard and may have attempted to convince him to retire, they ultimately felt they had to go in another direction.

The Panthers recently gave Matt Moore the highest tender for a restricted free agent. Moore went 4-1 as a starter after Delhomme was injured last season. But Moore remains something of an unproven commodity.

It’s likely the Panthers will pursue another quarterback through free agency to compete with Moore for the starting job. They also could draft a quarterback, but that’s likely to come in the middle or later rounds and a rookie would be more a project than a candidate to start immediately.

Falcons may not be done at CB

March, 4, 2010
The Falcons announced a contract extension for Brian Williams earlier Thursday, but he’s not the only cornerback on their minds.

Atlanta appears to be the leader in the race to get former Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson. A deal could be finalized within a few hours. Robinson has other options, but the Falcons have the advantage of geography. Robinson went to college at South Carolina and grew up in Athens, Ga. Indications are that he wants to be close to home.

Landing Robinson would put the Falcons in excellent shape at cornerback, a position where they had some problems after Williams got hurt last season. They also have Chris Houston, Brent Grimes, Chevis Jackson and Christopher Owens.

If they finalize a deal with Robinson, the Falcons likely will be able to focus entirely on getting a pass rusher early in the draft.

Panthers release DT Lewis

March, 4, 2010
On the surface, it seems a bit surprising the Carolina Panthers have cut Damione Lewis, who has been their best defensive tackle in recent years.

But not when you figure in the economic side. Lewis was scheduled to earn more than $5 million in 2010. That’s a classic case of production and cost not matching up. Lewis was an ordinary defensive tackle at best and actually ended up playing far more than the Panthers ever really expected him to. They initially thought he could factor into the rotation and be used mainly as a pass rusher.

Due to injuries and other issues, Lewis became more of an every-down defensive tackle. He never was much of a run stuffer and the Panthers do have Maake Kemoeatu coming back from an injury that forced him to miss all of last season. Aside from that, they only have several journeymen defensive tackles and they also may be looking for help at defensive end as Julius Peppers exits as a free agent.

Looks like coach John Fox, who built this team around his defensive line, will be starting from scratch. Although the Panthers aren’t expected to be major players in free agency, look for them to at least consider some mid-level defensive linemen because they won’t be able to get everything they need in the draft.
In a move that’s been speculated about for months, the Saints have announced they will release defensive end Charles Grant on Friday.

Not sure exactly why they’re waiting until Friday to officially make the move, but I’m sure there is some contractual reason the Saints are playing it this way.

The Saints also said they already have released veteran offensive lineman Jamar Nesbit and linebacker Mark Simoneau.

Grant, the team’s first-round pick in 2002, played in 118 games for the Saints and made 106 starts. Although his 47 sacks rank eight in team history, Grant’s production never quite matched the potential many thought he had when he came into the league.

Grant had 5.5 sacks last season, but was placed on the injured-reserve list before the postseason started. The Saints still have Anthony Hargrove, Bobby McCray and Jeff Charleston as candidates for the starting position opposite Will Smith, but probably will look to add more depth in free agency.