NFC South: Jammal Brown

We already have talked quite a bit about players from the NFC South who are expected to become unrestricted free agents. We’re going on the assumption that players not under contract who have at least four accrued seasons can become unrestricted free agents.

With that in mind, and with some help from ESPN Stats & Information, let’s take a look at some of the more prominent potential free agents from the rest of the league.

QUARTERBACKS: Marc Bulger, Kerry Collins, Rex Grossman, Matt Hasselbeck, Patrick Ramsey, Alex Smith, Billy Volek, Kellen Clemens, Brodie Croyle, Trent Edwards, Bruce Gradkowski, Tarvaris Jackson, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith and Tyler Thigpen.

RUNNING BACKS: Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Kevin Faulk, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Clinton Portis, Dominic Rhodes, Tony Richardson, Kevin Smith, Darren Sproles, Fred Taylor, Brian Westbrook, Ricky Williams, Joseph Addai, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerome Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney and LeRon McClain.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Mark Clayton, Braylon Edwards, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Randy Moss, Santana Moss, Terrell Owens, Donte’ Stallworth, Steve Breaston, Malcom Floyd, Santonio Holmes, James Jones, Sidney Rice, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith and Steve Smith (of the New York Giants, not the Steve Smith of Carolina).

TIGHT ENDS: Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Bo Scaife, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Zach Miller, Ben Patrick and Matt Spaeth.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: David Baas, Jammal Brown, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Matt Light, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Damien Woody, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Doug Free, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein and Marshal Yanda.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES: Aubrayo Franklin, Tommie Harris, Chris Hoke, Chris Hovan, Kris Jenkins, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Jamal Williams, Pat Williams, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo and Brandon Mebane.

DEFENSIVE ENDS: Jason Babin, Dave Ball, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Cullen Jenkins, Travis LaBoy, Trevor Pryce, Marcus Spears, Ray Edwards and Mathias Kiwanuka.

LINEBACKERS: Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Julian Peterson, Matt Roth, Takeo Spikes, Jason Taylor, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Paul Posluszny, Ernie Sims and Stephen Tulloch.

CORNERBACKS: Nnamdi Asomugha, Phillip Buchanon, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Ike Taylor, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Antonio Cromartie, Chris Houston, Johnathan Joseph, Dimitri Patterson, Josh Wilson and Eric Wright.

SAFETIES: Aaron Francisco, Ken Hamlin, Michael Lewis, Brandon McGowan, Quintin Mikell, Lawyer Milloy, Brodney Pool, Gerald Sensabaugh, Roy Williams, Gibril Wilson, Atari Bigby, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Danieal Manning, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weddle and Donte Whitner.
Tags:

NFC South, Ricky Williams, Gibril Wilson, Gerald Sensabaugh, T.J.Houshmandzadeh, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Terrell Owens, Steve Smith, Lawyer Milloy, Ronnie Brown, Phillip Buchanon, Jammal Brown, Billy Volek, Jason Taylor, unrestricted free agents, Mark Clayton, Chris Hovan, Rex Grossman, Tyler Thigpen, Randy Moss, Kris Jenkins, ESPN Stats & Information, Chris Houston, Alex Smith, Brandon McGowan, Danieal Manning, Bruce Gradkowski, Michael Lewis, Fred Taylor, Steve Breaston, Roy Williams, Nnamdi Asomugha, Trevor Pryce, Santana Moss, Tavaris Jackson, Pat Williams, Kellen Clemens, Julian Peterson, Donte Stallworth, Kerry Collins, Brodie Croyle, Cedric Benson, Clinton Portis, Zach Miller, Brian Westbrook, Damien Woody, Troy Smith, Marc Bulger, Kevin Faulk, Ray Edwards, Sidney Rice, Antonio Cromartie, Jamal Williams, Mathias Kiwanuka, Patrick Ramsey, Aaron Francisco, Joseph Addai, Darren Sproles, Matt Leinart, Tony Richardson, Ike Taylor, Josh Wilson, Matt Hasselbeck, Atari Bigby, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Marcus Spears, Jonathan Joseph, Paul Posluszny, Matt Light, Trent Edwards, Mewelde Moore, Sammy Morris, Dominic Rhodes, Kevin Smith, Ahmad Bradshaw, Jerom Harrison, Brandon Jackson, Laurence Maroney, LeRon McClain, Malcolm Floyd, James Jones, Mike Sims-Walker, Brad Smith, Desmond Clark, Donald Lee, Randy McMichael, Kevin Boss, Owen Daniels, Daniel Fells, Ben Patrick, Matt Spaeth, David Baas, Robert Gallery, Adam Goldberg, Kyle Kosier, Olin Kreutz, Sean Locklear, Casey Rabach, Chris Spencer, Langston Walker, Casey Wiegmann, Floyd Womack, Chris Chester, Jeromey Clary, Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, Jared Gaither, Charlie Johnson, Deuce Lutui, Samson Satele, Lyle Sendlein, Marshal Yanda, Aubrayo Franklin, Tommis Harris, Chris Hoke, Bryan Robinson, Gerard Warren, Alan Branch, Barry Cofield, John McCargo, Brandon Mebane, Raheem Brock, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Travis LaBoy, Akin Ayodele, Keith Bulluck, Kevin Burnett, Dhani Jones, Kirk Morrison, Takeo Spikes, Mike Vrabel, Stewart Bradley, Bobby Carpenter, Manny Lawson, Ernie Sims, Stephen Tulloch, Chris Carr, Drayton Florence, Ellis Hobbs, Carlos Rogers, Lito Sheppard, Fabian Washington, Drew Coleman, Demitri Patterson, Eric Wright, Ken Hamlin, Quintin Mikell, Brodney Pool, Melvin Bullitt, Abram Elam, Dashon Goldson, Michael Huff, Dawan Landry, Bernard Pollard, Eric Weedle, Donte Whitner

Camp Confidential: Saints

July, 31, 2010
7/31/10
12:25
PM ET
ESPN.com NFL Power Ranking (pre-camp): 2

METAIRIE, La. -- As the New Orleans Saints finished their first camp practice Friday morning, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a man known for holding back nothing on or off the field, unloaded. He wanted to get something off his chest. Heck, out of his body, out of his mouth and out into the open.

Without ever really being asked anything that would prompt the issue, Williams started talking about why the Saints can repeat as Super Bowl champions. He’s tired of hearing the reasons they can’t and the repeated reminders that the follow-up season hasn’t been good to many Super Bowl teams in recent history.

“I keep on hearing you guys talk about this Super Bowl hangover and it’s starting to chafe me a little bit,’’ Williams said. “It really is and I’m being real honest. The reason being is, if you could see behind the scenes of our offseason program from April 19 and to see every single practice we’ve had, I don’t have any qualms about the way our defense is because all they did was show up with more hunger, more fire, wanted me to be a bigger jerk and get on their (butt) more. They begged for me to get on their (butt) more. So far, I’ve seen nothing that would indicate that we can’t make another run at this.’’

Williams may be one of the organization’s more vocal figures, but you quickly get the feeling he’s not alone on this idea. Sure, the Saints spent a good portion of the offseason celebrating the first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Sure, recent history is stacked against them. No team has repeated since the 2004 Patriots.

Confidence -- some even have suggested arrogance -- was a big part of the reason the Saints won the Super Bowl last season. That hasn’t changed. Unlike a lot of recent Super Bowl teams, the Saints really didn’t lose much in free agency and they didn’t have their coaching staff picked apart. There really hasn’t been much turnover of faces or attitude.

“There was a really good locker room here before I got here,’’ Williams said. “There’s a better locker room now. The guys that we brought in this year, they fit into that locker room because Jon Vilma and Drew Brees aren’t going to let the wrong kind of people be in that locker room. They’re just not going to do that.’’

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeJabari Greer
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesA healthy Jabari Greer could help the defense be more consistent.
1. Can a defense that was opportunistic but far from dominant become more consistent? Sure, there is some bravado that comes with Williams. That’s part of his nature and it’s part of what makes him a good coach. But what he’s saying isn’t just bluster.

The Saints really should be much better on defense this season. All they really lost was linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive end Charles Grant. They showed Grant the door and probably upgraded the position by signing veterans Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson. They’ll line up on the other side from Will Smith. Brown and Wilkerson aren’t dominant pass-rushers, but they’re consistent in that area and play the run very well. Fujita was a key contributor, but the Saints believe they have a group of promising linebackers (Troy Evans, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Stanley Arnoux) and believe one of them will rise up.

Plug in a healthy Sedrick Ellis in the middle of the defensive line and the Saints should have a solid front seven. But the defensive backfield is where the Saints really could be outstanding. They’ve assembled one of the best collections of secondary talent in the league. Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter might be the best cornerbacks no one outside of New Orleans has heard of. When healthy, they both can be shut-down guys. Both were banged up last season, and that’s one of the reasons the Saints drafted cornerback Patrick Robinson. That move also has allowed them to move last year’s first-round pick, Malcolm Jenkins, to free safety, where he might get the chance to beat out Darren Sharper. If you can put Sharper, a possible future Hall of Famer on the bench, that’s a pretty big statement. People talk about New Orleans’ offense being explosive, but the defense has a chance to be every bit as dynamic.

2. Can the offense live up to last year’s standards? Brees remains the quarterback and, as long as that’s the case, this offense is going to be great. Brees clearly is in his prime and his pairing with head coach/offensive genius Sean Payton makes magic possible on every play.

This is an offense that can hit you from every angle -- Brees throwing short or long, Pierre Thomas running inside and Reggie Bush outside and an offensive line filled with Pro Bowlers. Keep in mind that the Saints had some injuries at the skill positions last year, but they still were phenomenal on offense. If they can keep Bush, Thomas, Marques Colston, Heath Evans and Jeremy Shockey healthy, last year’s production could be eclipsed.

[+] EnlargeJahri Evans
Larry French/Getty ImagesJahri Evans is part of a dominant offensive line that makes up for any weakness at left tackle.
3. Is left tackle really that important? The Saints used to have a Pro Bowl left tackle. His name was Jammal Brown and they traded him to Washington in the offseason. That happened after Brown missed all last season with an injury and the Saints got by with Jermon Bushrod quite nicely.

The Saints aren’t touting Bushrod as a franchise left tackle, although he’s the favorite to be the starter. They also drafted Charles Brown, and Zach Strief, who filled in when Bushrod slumped a bit last season, also is in the mix. The Saints gave Bushrod plenty of help last season and they’re prepared to do it again for him -- or for Brown or Streif. But the lesson that came out of last year is, in this offense, it’s not a necessity to have a dominant left tackle.

But that’s partly because the Saints have the league’s best guard tandem (Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks), a Pro Bowl right tackle (Jonathan Stinchcomb) and an excellent center (Jonathan Goodwin). Throw anyone out there at left tackle and the rest of the line and Brees will make him look good.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Jimmy Graham. The Saints took what seemed like a bit of a leap when they drafted the tight end in the third round. He played basketball at the University of Miami before deciding to switch to football in his final year. The conventional wisdom was that Graham would be a bit of a project and would take a year or two to really have an impact. But there already is a buzz among the coaching staff and other offensive players about Graham. Everyone knew he had great athletic ability coming in, but he’s picked up things faster than anyone expected and he got some first-team work with Brees in June workouts. He might play a bigger role faster than anyone expected.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

Clint Ingram. When the Saints signed Ingram, a lot of fans instantly thought he would be the automatic replacement for Fujita. Ingram had been a starter in Jacksonville, so the logic was solid. But Ingram was injured when the Saints signed him and he still hasn’t been on the practice field, except while riding a stationary bike. That has allowed Troy Evans, Dunbar and Arnoux time to make a good impression. Unless Ingram gets healthy very soon and makes a huge impression on the field, he might not even get a roster spot.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Darren Sharper
    James Lang/US PresswireDarren Sharper wore down toward the end of last season and had offseason microfracture surgery.
    I know this might sound like blasphemy to Saints fans because Sharper is very popular and had a huge impact last year. But the fact is he’s 34 and coming off micro-fracture knee surgery. I’ve suggested before I think there’s a good chance Jenkins takes his place in the starting lineup. But I’ll take it one step further here and say -- I’m not promising this will happen -- I can see a scenario where Sharper doesn’t even stay on the active roster. The Saints are high on Jenkins. They also like Usama Young and are hopeful about Chip Vaughn, who missed his rookie year with an injury. Ideally, the Saints would like to keep Sharper around for his leadership. But if his knee doesn’t come along, he could spend part of the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, the injured-reserve list or maybe even be released or retired. Even with all his credentials, Sharper can’t contribute if his knee isn’t right. The Saints have a lot of other safeties with young legs.
  • The Saints used a three-headed backfield with Bush, Thomas and Mike Bell last season. Bell is gone, but the playing time division should be pretty similar this year. Just plug Lynell Hamilton into Bell’s place. The Saints wouldn’t have let Bell go if they didn’t think Hamilton was ready. I don’t want to tease you and say this is the year Bush shows he can run between the tackles. But remember how well he ran in the playoffs and how he was more physical than at any time in his career? That was because he was completely healthy. That seems to still be the case, so don’t be surprised if you see Bush’s numbers go up a bit. This guy can do a little bit of everything.
  • Shockey’s always been an easy target and there’s no doubt he’s brought some of that on himself. But he appears to be in very good physical shape. Shockey hasn’t really been a distraction in New Orleans like many thought he was when he was with the Giants. He’s just been banged up for much of his time with the Saints. Maybe –- and I’m just saying maybe -- Shockey might have matured and might be taking better care of himself in an effort to stay on the field.
  • It really didn’t get much attention, but the best move the Saints made in the offseason might have been signing Patrick Ramsey to serve as Brees’ backup. Veteran Mark Brunell was a good fit in that role for a couple of years, but the Saints needed to get a little younger. The Saints hope and pray nothing ever happens to Brees. But, if he were to miss some time, the New Orleans offense might not suddenly fall apart. Ramsey’s a guy who has bounced around the league. He got messed up by Steve Spurrier early in his career in Washington, but he still has some talent. This is a quarterback-friendly offense with all sorts of weapons and Ramsey could win games for the Saints -- if that ever becomes necessary.
  • For a couple years, special teams were a bit of a question. That has changed. Kicker Garrett Hartley and punter Thomas Morstead were heroes in the Super Bowl. They’re still young and should only continue to get better.
  • It’s very early in camp, but one player who has intrigued the coaching staff is defensive end Junior Galette. He’s an undrafted rookie and very undersized at 258 pounds. But this guy is showing great speed and there’s a chance he could land a job as a pass-rush specialist. Yeah, Bobby McCray also is supposed to fit that description. But McCray had 1.5 sacks last season and actually was cut because of a high salary before he basically begged his way back (at a reduced salary). If the Saints cut McCray once, there’s no reason why they couldn’t do it again.

NFC South weekend mailbag

June, 20, 2010
6/20/10
12:13
PM ET
Russ in Reno, Nev. writes: Pat, I don’t understand you and John Clayton's love fest with Jimmy Clausen. What's wrong with sticking with Matt Moore as QB? He is 6-2 as a starter, including 4-1 finishing the season last year. Recall, Pat, he had "W's against Saints, Giants, and Minnesota, with his only loss at New England. I'd say that was not only respectable but how many young QB's in this league could have done equal. Moore is the perfect QB for John Fox. Also, the guy was much more productive in college than Clausen in big games.

Pat Yasinskas: Russ, I can’t speak for John Clayton. But I can tell you it’s not like I’m rooting for Clausen over Moore. I’m just stating my opinions. All indications are Moore will open the season as Carolina’s starter. As long as he plays well and the Panthers are winning, he’ll stay in that role. But the Panthers didn’t draft Clausen in the second round, and repeatedly try to trade up to get him sooner, because they want him sitting on their bench. If Moore struggles, Clausen will get his shot. The Panthers wouldn't have drafted Clausen if they were as sold on Moore as you are.


Paul in Broussard, La., writes: I am torn on the Jammal Brown deal. On one hand it seems as if the Saints gave him away for very little, but I guess it was the best offer out there. Plus, I doubt the Saints were going to re-sign him to a long-term deal so it's better to get at least something for him rather than nothing at all. This tells me that the Saints weren't sold on his health and that they feel that Charles Brown can develop faster without Jammal's presence.

Pat Yasinskas: It’s hard to question any personnel move Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton have made in the last year or two and they knew far more about the Brown situation than ever became public. They knew they weren’t going to give him a huge long-term contract and decided they’d get whatever they could for him while they still could. They drafted Charles Brown knowing Jammal Brown’s situation could end up like this and Loomis’ track record in drafting offensive linemen is pretty strong. Not sure that Charles Brown starts right away because the Saints still have Jermon Bushrod, who did a decent job at left tackle last season.


Jason in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: I am a big fan of Thomas Davis but can't help but wonder what this 2nd ACL tear in less than a year is going to do to his chances of being resigned in Carolina. What do you think?

Pat Yasinskas: The injury came at a very bad time for Davis, who is a restricted free agent this year. He is very well liked by the Carolina coaches, front office and ownership, but the Panthers have to be realistic about a guy coming off two major knee injuries and that might drive down his price tag. But, really, the key will be what happens with the NFL’s labor situation. If a new deal gets done, Davis’ fate could be determined by how big the salary cap is. Also, other teams are going to have concerns about his injuries and may be hesitant to pay him. The Panthers know him better than any other team, so I think that adds to the possibility of him returning.


Robert in Lexington, N.C., writes: I think it was great Deuce McAllister got a ring but one guy I was hoping would get one was Mike McKenzie. He was a very good corner for the Saints. It was a shame he got hurt. I thought he was the guy who got them going in the Pats game last year and made some very good plays while Tracy Porter and Jabari Greer were out.

Pat Yasinskas: According to Jeff Duncan, McKenzie did get a ring. For those who didn’t see it, Duncan’s got a good column on how the Saints decided who got Super Bowl rings. That process is never an exact science, but it sounds like the Saints were pretty generous in how they distributed the rings.

Saints' trade of Brown now done

June, 19, 2010
6/19/10
5:52
PM ET
It is now official -- the New Orleans Saints just formally announced they signed offensive tackle Jammal Brown to his tender as a restricted free agent and, then, turned around and traded him to the Washington Redskins.

Our Adam Schefter has the complicated terms of the deal. But the short version is the Saints will get third- or fourth-round pick in 2011 in exchange for Brown.

A former Pro Bowler for the Saints, Brown missed all of last season with an injury. The Saints got by with Jermon Bushrod last season and balked when Brown made noise about wanting a long-term contract. While Bushrod might not have tremendous upside, his play last season showed he can be a functional part of an offensive line that includes two elite guards in Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks and a Pro Bowl tackle in Jon Stinchcomb as well as a very solid center in Jonathan Goodwin.

Bushrod also is viewed as a good locker room guy. Brown didn’t have that reputation with the Saints and his conditioning sometimes had been an issue.
Citing a source in Washington, our Adam Schefter reports the Redskins are close to finalizing a trade for New Orleans offensive tackle Jammal Brown.

Don’t get your hopes up too high, Saints fans, because Schefter said disgruntled Washington defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth isn’t part of the deal. We’ll find out what the compensation for Brown is, but it might just be a draft pick or picks.

Brown has been looking for a long-term contract from New Orleans, but the Saints have made it clear that’s not in their plans at the moment. They got by with Jermon Bushrod when Brown missed all of last season with an injury and all indications are they’re prepared to cut ties with Brown.
NFC Big Question: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Will the New Orleans Saints be better in 2010 than they were in 2009?

[+] EnlargeGregg Williams
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesIf Gregg Williams' defense improves, the Saints could have a repeat of last season's success.
We actually need to give credit to New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for creating that question. While driving over the weekend, I caught a quick clip of Williams on Sirius NFL Radio and he was talking about how the Saints could be better this year.

He’s got a point. Yeah, recent history hasn’t been kind to Super Bowl champions as they head into the next season. We’ve already addressed many times how the Saints are going to be the big target on every opponents’ schedule and about how things like legal issues and Jeremy Shockey fainting spells can be distractions. Those are all very valid points. Things like that have been the downfall for other teams and it could turn out the same way for the Saints.

But, for a change, let’s play on Williams’ statement and wonder why the Saints actually could be better. It’s hard to repeat as a Super Bowl champion, but the way the Saints are set up, I don’t think it’s impossible. With Drew Brees in his prime, the offense isn’t going to get any worse. In fact, I think the return of a healthy Heath Evans at fullback and positive contract resolutions with Pierre Thomas and Jammal Brown, the offense could be better.

The special teams already are very good. That brings us to the defense, which was the biggest question entering last season. All the Saints really lost on defense was linebacker Scott Fujita. He was a nice player, but the Saints have a lot of young legs to replace him.

With Alex Brown and Jimmy Wilkerson, they probably have upgraded on Charles Grant at defensive end. Their collection of defensive backs is as talented as any in the league. Williams knows this defense better than anyone else.

If he’s saying the Saints could be better, it might be because he sees his defense getting even better.
METAIRIE, La. -– I had my first chance to see the New Orleans Saints since the Super Bowl as they went through two minicamp practices Friday. It was a bit of a media circus, but you’ve got to expect that when you’re the defending champion and the Saints seemed focused on business. Here are some notes and observations:

  • Tight end Jeremy Shockey sat out the morning session because of back spasms, coach Sean Payton said. But Shockey took part in most of the afternoon session.
  • The Saints had undrafted quarterback Greg Paulus (Syracuse) in for another tryout. They already had him in for their rookie camp. Not sure whether Paulus will end up getting a contract. If he does, he’ll compete with Chase Daniel and Sean Canfield to be the No. 3 quarterback. More than ever, I’m convinced the Saints have to add a veteran just in case something happens to Drew Brees.
  • Speaking of veteran backups, Mark Brunell’s stuff still is in his locker. I wouldn’t read too much into that because Brunell supposedly is ticketed to join the New York Jets before training camp. I’m thinking the Saints will sign someone like Patrick Ramsey or Luke McCown, who previously have visited with the team, but I’m not totally ruling out the possibility of Brunell returning.
  • Running back Pierre Thomas and left tackle Jammal Brown were not present. Both are restricted free agents, who have not signed their tenders and are looking for long-term deals. I usually try to stay out of contract negotiations, but I’m thinking not showing isn’t a good move by Thomas or Brown. The Saints have other options at both positions.
  • Speaking of running backs, I’m not a scout and don’t carry a stop watch. But Reggie Bush looked faster Friday than I remember him looking in the past.
  • On pure speed alone, free-agent receiver Larry Beavers might have flashed the most speed on the team on a deep route during the afternoon session. But the Saints are deep at receiver and, despite his speed, Beavers probably needs to add a little bulk to have any shot at making the roster.
  • There was a lot made about the Saints being more aggressive on defense when coordinator Gregg Williams came in last year. He had his players chasing loose balls and constantly trying to poke the ball loose from offensive players. Doesn’t look like Williams’ message has changed a bit and that’s a positive.
  • I’ll be back with more Saturday. By the way, the Saturday morning session, which starts at 10:15 CT, is scheduled to be open to the public.
Darren SharperAP Photo/Bill HaberSaints coach Sean Payton stopped the escalating back and forth between Darren Sharper and Visanthe Shiancoe.
METAIRIE, La. -- In what might be his most brilliant move since that onside kick in the Super Bowl, New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton called a halt to a little war that had grown out of hand.

Payton, who is supposed to be an offensive genius, played defense this time. He put an end to the Twitter war between New Orleans safety Darren Sharper and Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

"I'm done with that,'' Sharper said after Friday afternoon's practice. "Let it ride.''

As New Orleans fans pay tribute to the Lombardi Trophy, which is on public display at the Saints’ facility this weekend, they also should thank Payton for another contribution that is almost as meaningful to society as a whole.

“I think it’s fairly silly that we’re sitting in the month of June talking about two players … it would be different if they were texting each other,’’ Payton said after Friday’s first minicamp practice.

But Sharper and Shiancoe have not been texting one another. They have been Tweeting and taking shots at one another as they look ahead to the season opener between the Saints and the Vikings. They’re former teammates and there’s no doubt this all started harmlessly. But the fact is, with Twitter, there is no privacy.

“I don’t have a Facebook and I don’t have a Twitter or anything like that,’’ Payton said. “But when you decide to do something like that, you are having a mini press conference. We make sure the players understand that.’’

Payton may not be an expert on social media. But he’s as good a football coach as there is right now and social media was becoming a big issue for his team.

“I don’t anticipate it being any more of an issue,’’ Payton said.

Visanthe Shiancoe
Scott Rovak/US PresswireVisanthe Shiancoe and Darren Sharper have been waging a Twitter war for more than a week.
Translation: Payton, perhaps using slightly differently language, has told Sharper to stop it.

"He had a couple of words for me,'' Sharper said. "That might be part of why I'm not responding.''

The coach doesn’t have any control over Shiancoe, but closing one side of a ping-pong table usually ends the game.

Payton wasn’t providing any more details about what he told Sharper, but it was pretty obvious the same message was given to all the Saints.

“I’m trying to learn everything I can from [Sharper], but not the Twitter stuff. I’m not going to do that his way,’’ said Malcolm Jenkins, New Orleans’ first-round draft pick from a year ago, who is being groomed as Sharper’s eventual replacement at free safety.

Sharper spent much of last season talking about how much he’d like to face Minnesota, his former team, in the NFC Championship Game. He got his wish and the Saints won that game, but that act wore itself out on Twitter and in Payton’s eyes. Sharper's got the message now.

"The first game will be the time to talk about it and let the actions speak,'' Sharper said.

Sharper was on the practice field in the morning, but not practicing. He’s recovering from offseason knee surgery and he spent time between plays going over assignments with Jenkins. That’s the kind of input the Saints want from Sharper. He can give lots of good advice to a young player. He also still can play, if you go by last year.

What the Saints don’t want from Sharper is public output. Coming off a Super Bowl, the last thing the Saints need is a distraction. They already are the biggest target for every team on their schedule. There has been controversy this offseason with the team’s former security director alleging in a lawsuit (that since has been sent to arbitration) that senior officials were stealing pain pills. The Saints also have left tackle Jammal Brown and running back Pierre Thomas not showing up for workouts as they look for new contracts. Tight end Jeremy Shockey might be a walking distraction.

The Saints don’t need to spend the next few months firing up the Vikings. Sharper’s got bigger things to worry about, too. He’s put together a career that could land him in the Hall of Fame. Another strong season could put him over the top.

Sharper needs to get himself healthy and back on the field because the Saints are pleased with how Jenkins is progressing. Sharper doesn’t need a Twitter war to keep himself relevant. He needs to get on the field for the season opener.

“I figure there’s going to be a lot of people watching that game anyway,’’ New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said.

As always, Brees is completely accurate. The actual game between the Saints and Vikings will be played in the Superdome. The Saints don’t need any other games right now.

NFC South Saturday mailbag

May, 29, 2010
5/29/10
12:47
PM ET
Shawn in Dunedin, Fla., writes: I have heard a lot of talk about that the Bucs like Gerald McCoy more and more since they drafted him. What is it that they are attributing it to? His play on the field or is it something else?

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve heard the same things from important people within the Bucs. McCoy’s looked great on the field, but it has only been through workouts and minicamp and there’s no real hitting going on. It’s more his personality, intelligence and work habits. The Bucs knew McCoy was in good shape in all those departments when they drafted him, but they’re seeing even more good things. This guy can end up being a leader right away for a team that desperately needs leadership.


Adrian in Georgia writes: with the Falcons having back a healthy Peria Jerry, William Moore, and Harry Douglas, Dunta Robinson, Michael Turner, and Matt Ryan for all 16 games, do they beat out the Saints for the division? Remember the Saints won two squeakers without those guys and the Saints was fully loaded.

Pat Yasinskas: I’ll save my predictions until right before the season. But I think you have to look at the Saints right now as the favorite to win the division. They won the Super Bowl and their roster hasn’t changed all that much. But I also think the Falcons, if healthy, can be a serious challenger.


Rob in Sarasota, Fla., writes: Any word on the relations between Derrick Brooks and the Bucs? Was there an official announcement that he retired after no one picked him up last year? Has the dust settled enough to honor him as the second inductee in the Ring of Honor? Or at least something similar to what they did for Mike Alstott?

Pat Yasinskas: There has been no official announcement on Brooks’ retirement, even though it’s pretty obvious his playing days are over. This is kind of unfortunate because Brooks deserves a proper sendoff. He’s the best player in the history of the NFC South, although Drew Brees is gaining ground fast. At one point last season, the Bucs were starting to prepare some sort of major ceremony, but Brooks backed off because he thought he might end up playing somewhere else. It didn’t happen and I don’t think anything’s going to change this year. Quite frankly, Brooks is a guy with a tremendous amount of pride and it’s difficult for a guy like that to admit it’s over, but Brooks needs to accept the facts. The Bucs will give him a sendoff at least on a par with what they gave Mike Alstott and John Lynch and they’ll probably do even more for Brooks, but they’re waiting for him to give them clearance.


Charlie in Princeton, N.J., writes: Do you expect Jammal Brown to be starting? Or do you think he will be traded for a 2011 draft pick? Jermon Bushrod filled in admirably, but he got a lot of help so I'd be inclined to hold onto Brown.

Pat Yasinskas: With Brown not showing up at workouts and wanting a new contract, I think the Saints will at least entertain the idea of trading him. Brown is clearly a couple of notches above Bushrod as a player, but you have to factor in things like team chemistry. Brown’s been a good left tackle, but never has been dominant. Last year showed the Saints can get by with Bushrod, even if they have to give him lots of help. They could go the same route again and I think Brown needs to be careful what he wishes for because it just might end with him getting traded to a bad team.


Josh in Louisiana writes: Can’t wait to hear your preview of the Saints. I know their minicamp is coming up in a week or so, but judging from what you have seen this offseason, what do expect from the Saints defense?

Pat Yasinskas: Yes, I’ll be heading to Metairie for their minicamp, which starts Friday and am anxious to see the Saints. On paper, I like what they’ve done with their defense this offseason. Yes, they lost linebacker Scott Fujita, but they’ve got plenty of candidates to replace him. I think defensive ends Jimmy Wilkerson and Alex Brown can be upgrades over Charles Grant and the secondary is absolutely loaded with talent. I’ll give you a more thorough analysis once I see the Saints on the field next week.

Catching up on NFC South picks

April, 23, 2010
4/23/10
9:37
PM ET
TAMPA, Fla. – Time to weigh in on several NFC South picks that were made while I was off writing a column on Carolina’s selection of quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Let’s start with New Orleans taking Charles Brown with the final pick of the second round. Presumably, Lucy and Linus come along with Charlie Brown. But, really, this pick was made with Jammal Brown in mind. He used to be a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Saints. But he missed last season with an injury and he’s been making noise about his desire for a new contract. This may be a case where Jammal Brown should be careful what he’s wishing for. The Saints were able to get by without him last season. Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief did an adequate job filling in for Jammal Brown last season. Add Charles Brown to that mix and the Saints may able to get by without Jammal Brown on a permanent basis.

Now, let’s move on to the third round. Tampa Bay selected Vanderbilt defensive back Myron Lewis with pick No. 67. Although he’s got the size to make you think he can play safety, the Bucs said they drafted Lewis with a future at cornerback in mind. They’ve already gotten three instant starters out of this draft with defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price and receiver Arrelious Benn. Lewis doesn’t quite fit as an instant starter. He’ll compete with Elbert Mack for the nickel back role as the aging Ronde Barber and the sometimes-troubled Aqib Talib remain the starters. The Bucs view Lewis as a guy who could replace Barber in another year or two.

With the 78th overall pick, the Panthers selected LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell and this move looks very good on paper. LaFell is a big, physical receiver. In theory, he should be the perfect No. 2 receiver to go with Steve Smith. Then again, the Panthers thought they drafted that in Dwayne Jarrett a few years ago. We’ll see what happens.

With pick No. 83, the Falcons, who didn’t have a second-round pick, chose Corey Peters, a defensive tackle from Kentucky. The Falcons still haven’t made a pick move to improve their pass rush, but Peters take care of some other needs on the defensive line. He can create a little bit of a surge in the middle and he can play the run. The Falcons have Jonathan Babineaux and Peria Jerry, last year’s top pick, is expected back from a knee injury. There might be a little concern about Jerry coming back at full strength right from the start of the season and the addition of Peters gives Atlanta some insurance.

Stay tuned. The Saints and Falcons each still have a third-round pick coming.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

New Orleans offensive tackle Jammal Brown. He reportedly will stay away from offseason workouts and we can only assume that’s Brown’s way of stating he wants a big, long-term contract. That’s a bit of a risky move. Brown is an above average left tackle, but he’s not dominant. He missed last year with an injury and the Saints got by with Jermon Bushrod and Zach Strief. That wasn’t an ideal situation, but it showed the Saints can function without Brown. That could turn out to be a sign of things to come. Take a look around the league. Teams aren't rushing to give out long-term deals because they don't know what's going to happen with the labor situation. Brown's not exactly playing from a position of strength right now.

Rising

Restricted free agents in New Orleans. Back when free agency started, there was a little fear that other teams might raid the roster of the Super Bowl champions. The Saints had a whole bunch of restricted free agents, including big names like Jahri Evans, Brown and Pierre Thomas. But the deadline for other teams to make offers is tonight and it looks as if the Saints will make it through pretty much unscathed. Restricted free agents didn’t draw nearly as much action as many expected in an uncertain labor climate. The only guy the Saints have lost is running back Mike Bell. They had the chance to match his offer and they declined. Basically, the Saints have kept every restricted free agent they wanted.
The New Orleans Saints are the final stop in today’s edition of NFC South team-by-team mailbags.

Will in New Orleans writes: I was under the impression that Alex Brown filled the Saints’ hole at defensive end. So why do draftniks, including ESPN's own Mel Kiper Jr. in his latest four round team mocks, still predict that the Saints will draft a defensive end in the first round? it doesn't make sense given their needs at outside linebacker and defensive tackle.

Pat Yasinskas: Brown definitely brings some stability to the defensive end spot. But, even after his signing, the Saints had free-agent Jimmy Wilkerson in for a visit. That shows me they still are looking for depth at defensive end. Also, Brown, Will Smith and Bobby McCray aren’t exactly young and the Saints are in a position where their roster is talented enough that they can look a year or two down the road. I wouldn’t rule out a defensive end in the first round. But, at the moment, I’d lean toward a linebacker. We’ll see.

Mario in Fremont, Calif., writes: Do you think with Denver trading Brandon Marshall, they will try to trade a receiver from Saints. Saints are loaded with some good receivers and they might be interested on the draft day?

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve wondered that, not just about Denver, but any team in need of a receiver. If I’m a general manager and I’m looking to trade for a receiver, the Saints would be the first team I call. The Saints have several receivers on their bench that could start for other teams. I don’t see any way they’d part with Robert Meachem. The guy I wonder about is Lance Moore. Not sure if it was totally because of injuries or what, but he seemed to be all out of favor last year and the Saints have plenty of other options. If they want to add a draft pick or two, Moore might be able to get that for them. Not saying that will definitely happen, but it’s something to think about.

Jim in Ocean Springs, Miss., writes: Is there anything to the rumor that the Saints are looking into a Jammal Brown-Albert Haynesworth trade? It would solve big needs for each team.

Pat Yasinskas: To my knowledge, at this moment, no. Think it’s just a pipe dream by some fans.

Dave in Norfolk, Va., writes: Just out of curiosity, does everyone associated with the Saints get a Super Bowl ring? I mean even players like Deuce McAllister who was signed on as an honorable captain and was on the sidelines during the Super Bowl? How about the players on the practice squad? Do they get a ring?

Pat Yasinskas: Very good question and I’ve got a little experience in this one, going back to my days in Charlotte. Panthers didn’t get Super Bowl rings, but they got NFC Championship rings and that created some pretty major issues within the organization. Same with the Bucs –- I know some people there who did and did not get rings when Tampa Bay won the Super Bowl. The basic rule of thumb is the team decides who gets rings. All players, including those on injured reserve, get them. Same for the coaching staff. I haven’t heard anything on how far the Saints are going with the rings, but I’m guessing McAllister gets one just as a common courtesy for his contributions to the franchise. Where you get into the really sticky area is when you start giving out rings to people beyond coaches and players. From what I’ve seen elsewhere, general managers, top scouts and department heads throughout the organization will get them. It gets tricky beyond that because NFL teams employ hundreds of people and they can’t all get rings. I know former Carolina radio play-by-play man Bill Rosinski was quite upset when he didn’t get a ring. I also know some lower-level employees in Carolina and Tampa Bay at least were given the chance to buy replica rings.

Bushrod signs tender with Saints

April, 13, 2010
4/13/10
4:52
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Add Jermon Bushrod to the list of restricted free agents who have gone ahead and signed their tenders with the New Orleans Saints. The team just sent out an e-mail announcing the move.

Again, this is not at all surprising because the market for restricted free agents has been almost non-existent and the deadline for other teams to make offers is Thursday. But keeping Bushrod, as well as Zach Strief who signed his tender Monday, gives the Saints some quality depth on the offensive line.

Bushrod started most of last season at left tackle as Jammal Brown missed the year with an injury. Brown’s expected to be back this season, but Bushrod likely will be the top backup at both tackle positions.

Strief signs tender with Saints

April, 12, 2010
4/12/10
5:16
PM ET
On what has been an extremely quiet day in the NFC South, there finally is a bit of news.

The Saints just announced that offensive lineman Zach Strief has signed his tender as a restricted free agent. Not a real big surprise because Strief isn't the kind of guy that was going to draw much attention around the league. But it means the Saints will keep continuity and depth on their offensive line. Strief was a valuable backup last season and even was used as the starting left tackle briefly last season when Jermon Bushrod, who was playing for an injured Jammal Brown, was struggling.

The deadline for other teams to make offers to restricted free agents is Thursday.

NFC South mailbag: Haynesworth

April, 7, 2010
4/07/10
4:26
PM ET
Judging by the mailbag, it appears to be Albert Haynesworth Day here in the NFC South. Going on a quick glance, I believe I saw multiple questions about the possibility of Haynesworth landing with each of the four NFC South teams. There was even an inquiry about the Tampa Bay Storm bringing in Haynesworth to play both ways and one about him possibly taking on catching duty for the Braves (that last part’s only a joke).

Before we get into the questions, let me start with a little blanket statement. I know it’s very easy to sit out there and think of trade scenarios on this one and I do it, too. But to actually pull off a deal for Haynesworth would be very complicated and expensive. I know the Washington Redskins already are on the hook for a large chunk of Haynesworth’s existing contract, but the thing was so huge that there’s still a lot left. In case you haven’t noticed, NFC South teams haven’t exactly been spending much money this offseason. Plus, most of the teams in the division really aren’t looking to give up any of their draft picks. Also, keep in mind that although Haynesworth has been a very good –- dominant at times -– defensive tackle, there have been a few things that make you question his character. Again, character is a hot-button issue with most of the NFC South teams right now, so that could scare some suitors off.

With that said, let’s move on to some of the Haynesworth questions and we’ll move address some other issues further below:

GPM in Toronto writes: What are your thoughts on the idea of the Bucs going after Haynesworth? Could they swing a trade for him by offering a couple picks?

Pat Yasinskas: I’m not going to say that would be a good or bad move by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I’ll just say I don’t think you’ll see it happen. Although Tampa Bay reportedly made a huge offer to Haynesworth last year, I think that was before coach Raheem Morris, general manager Mark Dominik and ownership really grasped what the idea of the youth movement they came up with was really all about. Not saying they have knocked it out of the park yet or ever will, but it seems like they now have a common vision that the way they want to build is through the draft. Dominik and Morris keep pointing to the 11 picks they’re holding and I don’t see them letting go.


Brian in New Orleans writes: I know this is a pipe dream, but I can’t help but think about an Albert Haynesworth for Jammal Brown/draft-pick trade. Both obvious needs and would help both sides.

Pat Yasinskas: Pipe dream, probably. But I’d say it’s less of a pipe dream with the New Orleans Saints than Tampa Bay. For that matter, I’ll go ahead and say New Orleans is the only team in the division I think would even consider something like a Haynesworth move. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is focused on the labor situation so I can’t see him taking on Haynesworth’s contract -- no matter how much of it has already been taken care of by the Redskins. Besides, coach John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney never have been big on quick fixes. They weren’t there at the time, but they still are haunted by the ghost of Sean Gilbert. Sort of the same for the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons made their move for this year (Dunta Robinson) and they’re focused in on the draft. Back to New Orleans -– I know a lot of fans think Brown is expendable because the Saints won a Super Bowl with Jermon Bushrod playing in his place. But they did that with a lot of smoke and mirrors. You really think the Saints want Bushrod protecting Drew Brees’ blind side for the long term? Yes, Haynesworth would be a nice addition to the defensive line. But if the Saints put a decent draft pick or a mid-level free agent next to a healthy Sedrick Ellis, there’s no glaring need.


JM in Charlotte writes: In your opinion, what position will the Panthers draft first? Could it be wide receiver or defensive line/end?

Pat Yasinskas: All right, we now will move past the Haynesworth stuff. Tough call to single out a position for the Panthers because they don’t have their first pick until the middle of the second round. I’d really like to see them get a wide receiver, but given Fox’s system and history, I have a tough time seeing a rookie receiver come in and make an instant impact. Fox’s back is clearly against the wall this season. When you’re in that situation, you go back to basics. Fox is a defensive coach at heart. I see him pushing for a defensive end or a defensive tackle. I’d lean toward a defensive tackle because the Panthers think Everette Brown and Charles Johnson might step up on the outside. They’ve got some very ordinary guys in the middle, but nothing to build around.


Mike in Atlanta writes: I really enjoy reading your blog. I have a very pedestrian but important question-who is going to be the Falcons' kicker this year? Is the team settled on Matt Bryant or are they looking for other options?

Pat Yasinskas: Agree with you because that is an important question for Atlanta because the kicking game was an issue last year.Matt Bryant’s going to get the first crack at the job and hopes are high. Bryant had some injury issues when the Bucs let him go. He’s healthy now and the Falcons would like to see him win the job. But last year showed they can’t afford to sit back in this area. I’m sure they’ll bring another kicker to camp and will continue to scour what’s available in case they don’t like what they see in the preseason.


Ryan in Boston writes: I was wondering what you think the signing of Todd Carter means for the Panthers. Is he just another kickoff specialist like Rhys Lloyd, or do you see him eventually taking over for John Kasay? I think holding a roster spot for a kickoff specialist proved pretty detrimental to the Panthers' depth last season.

Pat Yasinskas: For the moment, the Panthers are just hoping Carter can do what Lloyd did the last couple years -– kick off. But Carter has visions of someday being a field-goal kicker and Kasay can’t go on forever. This is a chance for Carter to get his foot in the door, but he’s got to show he can kick off and make the roster first. By the way, earlier today, I spotted what has to be –- and probably will continue to be unless he kicks his way to the Hall of Fame –- the most extensive story ever written about Carter.

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