NFC South: Jeff Otah

Around the NFC South

March, 18, 2013
3/18/13
9:55
AM ET
Let's take a quick run through the headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Daniel Cox takes a look at the six tackles chosen ahead of Sam Baker in the 2008 draft. Some worked out and some didn’t. A lot of Atlanta fans said Baker was a bust before he turned in a solid 2012 season. But Baker’s had a better career than some of the guys drafted ahead of him, particularly former Carolina tackle Jeff Otah, who was taken two picks before Baker.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

A lot of Carolina fans were underwhelmed when the team signed cornerback Drayton Florence. That’s understandable because he’s nearing the end of his career and never has been a superstar. But Florence has history with coach Ron Rivera. The two were together in San Diego. Rivera’s had pretty good luck in bringing in guys he worked with while he was with the Chargers. Florence isn’t going to solve all of Carolina’s problems, but he could be a solid contributor for a year or two.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Larry Holder reports that there is no indication of how cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha’s visit with the Saints went Sunday. It’s unlikely he got to spend time with coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis because they were traveling to the NFL owners meeting. But Asomugha has history with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from their time together in Oakland. If both sides are interested in a deal, that can be accomplished with one phone call by Loomis.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson characterized reports that the team is shopping cornerback Darrell Revis as a “little exaggerated." However, Johnson also said the Jets would consider any move that would make their team better. The bottom line here is Revis is available and Tampa Bay is interested, but the Buccaneers are hoping the compensation the Jets want in a trade drops because they don’t want to part with this year’s first-round pick. If no other team steps up, the Jets may have to drop their price.
What happened with the Carolina Panthers on Monday morning is a reminder that the NFL is a cold, hard business and the win-loss record is all that really matters.

The Panthers fired general manager Marty Hurney. It was inevitable. Carolina came into the season with very high expectations but is off to a 1-5 start. The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2008.

Fans are getting restless, and so is team owner Jerry Richardson, a man who spent a ton of money coming out of this past summer’s lockout.

[+] EnlargeMarty Hurney
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneMarty Hurney had been the Panthers' GM since 2002.
Someone had to take the fall, and Hurney was the choice. You can question whether Hurney was the right guy to sacrifice, and some already are doing that.

“Marty wasn't the reason we are losing!" Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson said on his Twitter account. “That's bs! Unbelievable! Marty might be the realist GM that I know #InMyMind BS BS BS BS!"

You can wonder if maybe head coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski or defensive coordinator Sean McDermott should have been ousted. At least to me, it looks as though the Panthers have a talented roster that is not being coached very well.

And you can certainly question the timing of Hurney’s firing. Does it really make sense to fire the guy who runs the personnel department after Week 7?

No, it doesn’t. The Panthers will bring in someone from outside or elevate director of pro scouting Mark Koncz, but either way, they’re not going to right the ship in the middle of the season. Any personnel moves that can help this team will have to come in the offseason.

But this wasn’t just a football move. It went much deeper than that.

To understand what I mean by that, you have to know a bit about Hurney and Richardson. They were -- and even now probably will remain -- exceptionally close. After saying he’d never have a general manager again after Bill Polian’s ugly departure, Richardson hired Hurney to manage the salary cap in 1998.

The two hit it off, and Hurney quickly gained Richardson’s trust. When former coach George Seifert ran the franchise into the ground in 2001, Richardson reversed course and promoted Hurney to general manager. He also essentially let Hurney hire John Fox as coach.

The Panthers reached the Super Bowl in Hurney and Fox's second season together, 2003. Two seasons later, they were back in the NFC Championship Game.

But soon after that, Richardson started to see cracks. He wanted to see back-to-back winning seasons, and he was starting to worry about growing egos.

Richardson’s worries eventually turned into realities. Fox never produced consecutive winning seasons, and the level of trust between the coach and Richardson seemed to erode to a point where things became downright hostile in Fox’s final season, 2010.

But the Richardson-Hurney relationship survived all that, and Richardson let Hurney hire Rivera to replace Fox. Part of the reason is Hurney is one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you’ll ever meet in football or anywhere else. He’s the kind of guy who picked up the phone to offer condolences to a reporter whose father had died the moment he heard about it.

Hurney is the kind of guy who would call a reporter on draft night just to exchange thoughts on what happened around the league. He’s the kind of guy who would never lie to you and always try to steer a reporter in the right direction, even if it wasn’t necessarily in his best interest.

On the job, Hurney made some brilliant moves through the years -- signing Jake Delhomme and Stephen Davis as free agents, drafting the likes of Julius Peppers, Jordan Gross and Ryan Kalil. His drafting of quarterback Cam Newton looked brilliant last year, but not so much this season.

He also made some very questionable moves -- signing Delhomme to a big contract extension after the quarterback had flamed out, drafting Armanti Edwards, Jimmy Clausen, Dwayne Jarrett, Terrell McClain, Eric Norwood, Everette Brown, Jeff Otah and some other busts. He also committed $80 million of Richardson’s money to running backs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.

But for some reason, the coaching staff isn’t making much use out of Williams, Stewart and Tolbert. Is that Hurney’s fault?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think Richardson totally believes that, either.

Still, it really doesn’t matter. Richardson needed a scapegoat, and it had to be hard for him to decide on Hurney. But keep in mind, Richardson once fired his two sons (Mark as team president and Jon as stadium president). His logic on that move was that their dysfunctional relationship was taking a toll on the other 300 people who worked in the building and on fans.

The logic on Hurney was similar. Things weren’t going well, and fans were giving up on the Panthers.

When I spoke to Hurney last week, he seemed resigned to the idea that his time was running out, but it seemed he thought the move would come more toward the end of the season.

That might have been more logical. But Richardson had to send a message now to his fans that he still cares about winning and that the current product is unsatisfactory. It would be difficult to fire the entire coaching staff or fire Rivera and elevate one of his assistants in the middle of the season.

Someone had to go now, and that was Hurney. But I think it should be clear to Rivera, every assistant coach in the building and every player that if Richardson is willing to get rid of Hurney, no one is sacred.

There’s going to be a lot more housecleaning in Carolina after the season. This was just the first step.

Around the NFC South

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
9:49
AM ET
A look at the top Thursday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Rookie Lamar Holmes, who has missed a lot of time with an injured toe, will make his preseason debut Friday night. Good for him, but I simply am not getting why so many fans think Holmes has a chance to instantly beat out Sam Baker for the starting left tackle job. I mean, I understand that Baker is not a fan favorite, and with backup Will Svitek lost to season-ending injury, there’s no one else to root for. But let’s be realistic. Holmes was a third-round draft pick, and many had him rated as a sixth-round talent. The Falcons took him as a project, and he barely has been on the practice field so far. The Falcons aren’t anywhere close to putting him out there to protect Matt Ryan’s blind side. They’ll give Baker every chance, and if they have some doubts, I suspect they first would bring in someone from outside or move backup right tackle Mike Johnson. Hey, former Carolina tackle Jeff Otah is out there, but I’m not sure he can pass a physical.

Mark Bradley has a column on the common perception that Ryan’s right arm suddenly got stronger because the quarterback lifted some weights in the offseason. Ryan politely scoffs at that notion, and he’s correct. As I’ve said many times, Ryan’s arm always has been strong enough to throw the deep ball. It’s just that he hasn’t always had great opportunities to do that, and you can blame most of that on the play-calling or on the offensive line not blocking well enough to allow it. I think all that is going to change with Dirk Koetter taking over as the offensive coordinator and Pat Hill as the offensive line coach.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Receiver Brandon LaFell said he doesn’t think there’s a secondary in the league that can stop Carolina’s receiving corps. Might sound a little brash from a guy that hasn’t completely proven himself. But confidence is generally something you want in your wide receivers. That trait always has worked pretty well for teammate Steve Smith.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Now that they’ve gone ahead and said offensive line coach Aaron Kromer will act as head coach for the first six games of the regular season, the next logical question is who will step in for general manager Mickey Loomis as he serves an eight-game suspension to start the season. Mike Triplett writes that Loomis doesn’t plan to name an official replacement, but pro scouting director Ryan Pace will have final say on roster moves. Director of football administration Khai Harley and director of college scouting Rick Reiprish also are expected to handle some of Loomis’ duties. These are guys Loomis relies on heavily all the time, and they’re familiar with his way of operating. I wouldn’t expect any big changes in philosophy. If the Saints have some in-season injuries and need to add some depth, these guys are more than capable of finding it.

Bradley Handwerger has an excellent story on Marquis Johnson. The New Orleans cornerback is speaking out against child abuse in an effort to prevent others from having to deal with what he faced as a youngster.

Running back Darren Sproles said he’ll sit out Saturday’s preseason game with Houston, but it would be a different story if it was a regular-season game.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

After practicing with the Bucs on Wednesday, New England quarterback Tom Brady said he really doesn’t know much about Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman. He’s not alone there. Although starting NFL quarterbacks generally are considered a fraternity, the guy at the top doesn’t know everybody. The way quarterbacks generally bond is by getting to know each other at the Pro Bowl or playing against one another in the Super Bowl, especially those that are in different conferences like Freeman and Brady. That’s not an indictment of Freeman. It’s just further evidence that there’s a lot of room for growth.

Speaking of room for growth, Gary Shelton writes that all the Bucs should be taking lessons from the Patriots as the teams continue practicing together Thursday and face off in a preseason game Friday night. Can’t argue with that. The Patriots pretty much have set the standard for success in the NFL for most of the past decade or so.
Here’s a move that shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Carolina Panthers just announced the official release of offensive tackle Jeff Otah.

Otah
That’s been expected ever since Otah’s trade to the New York Jets was voided because he couldn’t pass a physical. Otah’s rights returned briefly to the Panthers, but it was obvious he had no future with the team.

A first-round draft pick in 2008, Otah had two good years before knee injuries started to become chronic. Otah appeared in only four games over the past two seasons.

In his absence last season, the Panthers discovered they had a capable replacement in Byron Bell and he’s expected to be the starter this season with Bruce Campbell and Garry Williams as his backups.

The Panthers will have to absorb a $218,750 salary-cap hit for Otah, but they still free up about $800,000 with the release. The Panthers now have about $9 million in cap space.

The Panthers filled Otah’s roster spot by signing cornerback Nate Ness. Ness previously has spent time with the Dolphins, Seahawks, Giants and Rams.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
5:31
PM ET
Let's take a quick look at the day's headlines from around the NFC South:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Tampa Bay punter Michael Koenen said he would not have minded if the Atlanta Falcons had given permission to use their trademarks in the “Rebirth’’ statue unveiled last week outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The statue memorializes Steve Gleason’s legendary blocked punt against the Falcons in the first game played in the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. Koenen was Atlanta’s punter at the time. The NFL holds the rights to the use of a team’s trademarks outside their home market and the NFL asked the Falcons if they’d like to make an exception in this situation. The Falcons declined. Koenen said he has met Gleason, who has ALS, and has enormous respect for him. Koenen said he might visit the statue when the Bucs play the Saints this season.

After being troubled by injuries in his final few seasons in Indianapolis, tight end Dallas Clark appears to be totally healthy in Tampa Bay’s training camp. If he can stay that way, it would be a big plus for the Bucs. I don’t think Clark ever will be the 100-catch guy he once was, but he can provide a nice veteran target for quarterback Josh Freeman.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Before playing in the Hall of Fame Game on Sunday, the Saints will visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame and view the exhibit celebrating the Super Bowl championship from the 2009 season. That’s a natural motivational tactic. Let the guys that were on that team see and remember the work that went into the championship and let them tell the young guys all about it. And I'd be willing to bet that assistant head coach Joe Vitt will remind the troops that this season's Super Bowl will be played in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With starting cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson sitting out with injuries, Johnny Patrick is making the most of his opportunity. Patrick had a highlight play in Wednesday’s practice, intercepting a Drew Brees pass.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Chris Vivlamore ponders how good the receiving duo of Roddy White and Julio Jones can be. He also rolls out a list of his top receiving combinations in history. He has Pittsburgh’s Lynn Swann and John Stallworth at the top. We already know White is a great receiver and all indications suggest Jones can become one. But Jones needs a few big years and White needs to continue to keep playing at a high level for a few more years before you can mention them with the likes of Swann and Stallworth.

Speaking of Atlanta receivers, Knox Bardeen explores the battle between Kevin Cone and Drew Davis for the No. 5 receiver spot. Harry Douglas already is settled in as the No. 3 receiver and Kerry Meier is likely to stick around because he has value on special teams.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Defensive tackle Ron Edwards is healthy and ready to go after missing all of last season with an injury. Everyone talks about linebacker Jon Beason’s return from injury and that’s very significant. But I think Edwards’ return is just as important. He was brought in to bring the kind of run-stopping presence the Panthers have lacked since the long-ago departure of Kris Jenkins.

Tom Sorensen writes he doesn’t expect Jeff Otah to stick with the Panthers after his trade to the New York Jets was voided by a failed physical. I’m in full agreement with Sorensen. In fact, I’ve been checking my e-mail all afternoon because I’m expecting an announcement that the Panthers have released Otah. Time to check the e-mail again.

NFC South evening update

July, 31, 2012
7/31/12
6:12
PM ET
Time to take a look at the day’s headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Carolina general manager Marty Hurney said he plans to meet with offensive tackle Jeff Otah on Wednesday. The Panthers previously traded Otah to the New York Jets, but that deal was rescinded after Otah couldn’t pass a physical. The Panthers already were prepared to move on without Otah, and I don’t see them hanging onto him now. It will be tough to find another trade partner now because the fact Otah couldn’t pass a physical was made very public. I think Carolina’s only choice is to release Otah. But we’ll see if Hurney has something up his sleeve.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Dominique Davis drew some praise from coach Mike Smith. The coach talked about Davis’ strong arm. I can verify that. When I was at Atlanta’s camp, it clearly was evident Davis has a strong arm. But the thing that caused me a little concern was that he seemed to have only one speed -- fast. It didn’t matter if it was a screen pass or a shot over the middle to a receiver or a tight end, Davis was throwing the ball very hard, and didn’t seem to have a lot of touch.
  • Tampa Bay middle linebacker Mason Foster said he knows there are no guarantees as to how the linebacker group will be utilized in the regular season. But it’s pretty obvious the Bucs want Foster starting in the middle, with Quincy Black and rookie Lavonte David on the outside. Unless they really struggle in the preseason, I don’t think you’ll see any changes.
  • The Buccaneers got their first day off from training camp Tuesday. That’s probably a good thing. This team is off to a rough start when it comes to injuries, and a little rest can’t hurt.
Now that Carolina’s trade of Jeff Otah to the New York Jets has been voided because he couldn’t pass a physical, it might be a good time to revisit the 2008 draft as it pertains to offensive tackles and NFC South teams.

There’s an old school of thought that you’re not getting any sure things with an offensive tackle unless you take one in the top half of the first round. That, very much, holds true when you look back at what happened in 2008 and how the careers of the tackles have played out.

Otah
The No. 1 overall pick in that draft was Jake Long by Miami. He was viewed as a sure thing then and that’s turned out to be true. Long has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons. Denver selected Ryan Clady at No. 11 overall and he’s been to two Pro Bowls.

After those two is when you start to see a drop off. Kansas City selected Branden Albert at No. 15. He’s started 60 games, but hasn’t been to any Pro Bowls. It’s a similar story for Gosder Cherilus, who went to Detroit at No. 17. He’s started a lot of games, but doesn’t have any real accolades on his résumé.

Now, we’re getting toward the back half of the first round where there’s an even bigger drop off and, sadly, that’s where the NFC South comes into the equation.

The Panthers already had drafted running back Jonathan Stewart, but they felt they really needed a tackle and they saw the good ones were coming off the board in rapid order. They made a trade to get Otah at No. 19. Otah was pretty good his first two seasons, but he was playing right tackle. You don’t need to reach for a right tackle (the Panthers had and still have Jordan Gross on the left side), and I think time has shown the Panthers reached on this one. Otah started having knee problems and played in only four games the past two years. At least for the moment, the Panthers hold his rights. But they’re ready to go with Byron Bell at right tackle and they have some depth behind him. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Panthers work out an injury settlement and release Otah. I would be surprised if he ever plays for Carolina again.

Carolina general manager Marty Hurney has made a lot of good draft picks through the years. But the final verdict is in on Otah and he clearly was not a good draft pick.

The final verdict isn’t in on Sam Baker just yet. The Falcons still hope Baker can overcome injury problems and be their starting left tackle this season. If Baker doesn’t have a good season, then you can label him as a bad draft pick. At the time, a lot of people said the Falcons were reaching when they traded to get Baker at No. 21. That may turn out to be true in the final analysis.

But the Falcons wanted a left tackle to protect the blind side of quarterback Matt Ryan, who they selected third overall in that draft. They didn’t have the currency to move up any higher and there weren’t many other options. The only other tackle taken in the first round was Duane Brown by Houston at No. 26. He’s been a solid starter for the Texans, but the Falcons must have had Baker rated higher.

After Brown, no tackle was taken until the third round. John Greco went to St. Louis with the No. 65 overall pick. Chad Rinehart (Redskins) and Oniel Cousins (Ravens) were selected late in the third round. Greco has made four career starts. Rinehart spent two seasons in Washington before moving onto Buffalo, where he became a starter at guard last season. Cousins has made only five career starts.

The lesson here is pretty obvious. If you want an elite tackle, chances are good you’re not going to get one unless you’ve got a pick in the first half of the first round.
The Carolina Panthers just announced their trade of offensive tackle Jeff Otah to the New York Jets has been voided.

The Panthers made the trade in exchange for a conditional draft pick last week, but Otah failed his initial physical with the Jets. He had a week to pass another physical, but wasn’t able to do that, so his rights revert to the Panthers.

But it’s unclear if Otah has any future with the team that used a first-round draft pick on him in 2008. Otah’s knee issues limited his playing time the past two seasons. Rookie Byron Bell took over his starting job at right tackle last season and performed well. The Panthers are planning on using Bell as their starter this year and they have solid depth behind him with Bruce Campbell and Garry Williams.

The Panthers may try to reach an injury settlement with Otah and release him.

Around the NFC South

July, 26, 2012
7/26/12
10:31
AM ET
METAIRIE, LA. -- It should be a long and busy day around the NFC South as the Saints hold their first practice of training camp and other teams begin reporting or get a day closer to it. I’ll be out at practice to watch the Saints on Thursday evening and will provide updates from there.

We also should have lots more throughout the day. But, before that, let’s take a look at the top headlines from around the division.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

  • Before the Saints practice, there will be plenty of activity. A judge will hear linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s request for an injunction that would, at least temporarily, halt his season-long suspension. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt and several players are expected to be called as witnesses. Even if Vilma gets the injunction, I wouldn’t count on seeing him on the practice field Thursday night. He still is recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for a big chunk of last season.
  • James Varney has a look at some of the top position battles for the Saints. The most congested one is at weakside linebacker. Four guys -- Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas, Will Herring and Chris Chamberlain -- are in the mix. I’m not sure there’s an early favorite. Shanle’s started a lot of games for the Saints through the years, but the team may be looking to get younger and more athletic. I think the guy to keep an eye on is Casillas. He’s flashed some potential in the past, but needs to stay healthy.
  • New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said, now that he is the NFL’s highest-paid player, he has to be careful not to put too much pressure on himself. That will be a fine line. Brees always has put a lot of pressure on himself and I think that’s one of the things that has helped him thrive. There have been players throughout the sports world that have regressed after getting huge contracts. I don’t think Brees will be one of them. I’d look for him to put the same amount of pressure on himself as he always has.
ATLANTA FALCONS
  • D. Orlando Ledbetter has an overview of Atlanta’s situation at quarterback. Everyone knows this is a crucial season for Matt Ryan. But the arrival of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter could be what puts Ryan over the top. All indications are Koetter plans to use a lot of the no-huddle offense. Through his first four seasons, Ryan has looked at his best when operating without a huddle.
  • The Falcons made several roster moves as they get ready for camp. The most significant is that they placed defensive tackle Corey Peters on the PUP list. Peters is dealing with a foot injury and could be out for about three weeks. That’s going to give Peria Jerry, who was a first-round pick in 2009 and has dealt with knee issues, a chance to show if he’s fully healthy. It also could give Jerry a shot at significant playing time.
CAROLINA PANTHERS
  • Carolina’s Ron Rivera said he feels much more prepared for the start of camp this year. That’s not necessarily because last year was Rivera’s first as the head coach. He said having an entire offseason provides a big advantage over last year when the NFL went through a lengthy lockout and coaches and players didn’t get to know each other until the start of training camp.
  • Carolina’s trade of offensive tackle Jeff Otah is now on hold. The deal requires Otah to pass a physical exam in the next seven days. He hasn’t done that yet and, for the moment, is on the active physically-unable-to-perform list. The Panthers traded Otah for a conditional draft pick, but they could end up getting the rights to the tackle back if he doesn’t pass a physical.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
  • Oregon coach Chip Kelly talks about why he turned down the job as head coach in Tampa Bay. Kelly said he chose to stay at Oregon because he wanted to keep his coaching staff together. So why did he interview with the Bucs in the first place?
  • Greg Schiano, the guy that did take the Tampa Bay job, said he’s excited as the Bucs report to camp Thursday.
  • Tampa Bay tackle Donald Penn said he wishes the regular season could start now so the Bucs can begin to get rid of the taste of the 10-game losing streak they were riding at the end of last season.

Around the NFC South

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
9:39
AM ET
Let's take a look at the top Tuesday headlines from around the division.
  • Bradley Handwerger’s series of questions on the Saints explores whether running back Mark Ingram will take on a bigger role in his second season. I think outside expectations were way too high on Ingram last year. Sure, he was a first-round pick, but the Saints are a team with a recent history of not asking their rookies to carry too heavy a load. Plus, Ingram started off the season working in tandem with Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. After that, he got hurt and the numbers for his rookie season ended up being unimpressive. But I think you’ll see a more productive season out of Ingram, if he’s fully healthy. But he still is going to be sharing the workload with Sproles, Thomas and Chris Ivory, so the numbers might not be overwhelming.
  • The Saints report to training camp Tuesday. They’ll be going through physical exams and meetings the first two days and won’t hit the practice field until late Thursday afternoon. Interim coach Joe Vitt and quarterback Drew Brees are scheduled to address the media on Tuesday afternoon.
  • The Times-Picayune reaches No. 2 in its countdown of the top 25 Saints. This spot is occupied by tight end Jimmy Graham. Gee, I wonder who possibly could be No. 1?
  • Here’s a look at how the arrival of Asante Samuel will impact the Falcons at cornerback. Perhaps the most important thing here is that Samuel’s arrival will allow Dunta Robinson to slide inside and match up with slot receivers. That’s something Robinson likes to do. It doesn’t matter if Samuel or Robinson technically is listed as the starter opposite Brent Grimes. There is going to be plenty of playing time for all three cornerbacks.
  • Joesph Person takes a deeper look at the two trades the Carolina Panthers made Monday. They shipped offensive tackle Jeff Otah to the Jets for a conditional pick and acquired wide receiver Louis Murphy from Oakland for a conditional pick. The conditional picks are late-round choices that offset one another. So the Panthers basically traded Otah, who has had a history of injuries and no longer was a great fit in Carolina’s offensive scheme, for Murphy, a young receiver with some upside. Again, Carolina’s offense has changed. Wide receivers are at a premium because the Panthers will be using lots of three- and four-receiver sets.
  • Tampa Bay defensive tackle Brian Price, who has been struggling emotionally after losing his sister in a car accident this offseason, said he expects to join his teammates when they report to training camp later this week. Price’s situation has brought some angst and uncertainty because he’s been away from the team much of the preseason. It still remains to be seen what kind of shape Price, who has had some injury problems in the past and said he has worked out in California with trainers, will be in. But a healthy Price and Gerald McCoy on the interior could give the Bucs the foundation for a solid defensive line.

Panthers unload Jeff Otah

July, 23, 2012
7/23/12
5:16
PM ET
The Carolina Panthers made just announced their second trade of the day. After trading with Oakland for receiver Louis Murphy, the Panthers said they have traded offensive tackle Jeff Otah to the New York Jets in exchange for a conditional draft pick.

The details on the pick aren’t known yet, but I wouldn’t imagine it’s worth very much. After showing lots of promise at right tackle in his first two seasons, Otah has dealt with a series of injuries and has appeared in only four games the last two years. Byron Bell ended up starting in Otah’s place last season and made a favorable impression on the coaching staff.

The Panthers also have some depth behind Otah with Bruce Campbell and Garry Williams, who both can play guard and tackle.

Around the NFC South

June, 12, 2012
6/12/12
8:23
AM ET
Let’s take a look at the top headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Defensive tackle Brian Price reportedly will miss the team’s minicamp that starts Tuesday. Price reportedly is working out with a personal trainer in California and has the team’s blessing. Coach Greg Schiano quickly has developed a reputation for not cutting any slack to his players, but he’s making an exception in Price’s case. I think that’s the right call because this is a unique situation. Price recently lost his sister in a car accident. He needs time to heal and it’s not imperative for him to be in Tampa right now. If he’s ready for training camp, I think that’s a reasonable expectation for all the parties involved.
  • Veteran receiver Chad Ochocinco says he has signed with the Miami Dolphins. So it looks like we can put an end to the questions about him landing in the NFC South, which I don’t think was ever a remote possibility.
  • Joseph Person has a five-point checklist on the Panthers as they start minicamp Tuesday. The most intriguing item to me is right tackle, where Jeff Otah had a knee injury last week. The Panthers say tests showed no further damage to a knee that’s been banged up the past couple of years. I’m thinking that unless Otah really shows conclusive evidence from now through the preseason that his knee is completely healthy, his time in Carolina could be over and Byron Bell will be the starter. It’s a shame because Otah had enormous talent as a run-blocker. But, if the Panthers can’t count on his knee to hold up, they have to move on.
  • Although an arbitrator ruled last week that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had the right to suspend New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans linebacker Scott Fujita, he initially reserved a final ruling on former New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. But the arbitrator rule Monday that Goodell had the authority to suspend Hargrove. All four players also have appealed their suspensions to Goodell, who is scheduled to hear the appeals next week.
  • New Orleans rookie Nick Toon has drawn comparisons to his father, former NFL receiver Al Toon, and to current New Orleans No. 1 receiver Marques Colston. If Toon can be just a little like those two, he’s got a chance to emerge as the Saints’ No. 4 receiver this year.

Around the NFC South

June, 5, 2012
6/05/12
10:15
AM ET
METAIRIE, La. -- I’m about to make my way over to the New Orleans Saints’ facility, where I’ll be watching the first of two minicamp practices Tuesday. Before I go, let’s take a look at some of the top headlines from around the NFC South.

Although NFL commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t won a lot of friends this offseason, Mark Bradley writes that he’s doing what’s in the best long-term interest of the game by doing everything in his power to make it safer.

Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon talked yet again about why he released the infamous audio tape of former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams speaking to the team the night before last season’s playoff loss to San Francisco. I don’t know about you, but it seems the more Pamphilon talks and writes, the less clear I become about his motives.

Another sad story about a big-name player running into financial trouble after football. Former Atlanta receiver Andre Rison reportedly will be featured in the ESPN documentary “Broke” in October. Rison made at least $19 million in base salary throughout his career.

Legendary New Orleans assistant equipment manager Glennon “Silky’’ Powell is retiring after 38 years with the Saints.

Carolina tight end Gary Barnidge put on a good show while taking batting practice with the Charlotte Knights.

Carolina right tackle Jeff Otah, who injured his knee in a workout last week, is all right. Coach Ron Rivera said an MRI revealed no damage to Otah’s knee. Still, Otah’s knee remains a major question because he barely has been able to play the past two seasons.

We’ll find out in just a few hours who will be the newest member of Tampa Bay’s Ring of Honor.

Around the NFC South

June, 2, 2012
6/02/12
11:55
AM ET
For a Saturday in June, we have a relatively high number of headlines from around the NFC South to work with. So let's take a run through them.
  • The NFL reportedly has a ledger that details the accounting of the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program. The public and the suspended players have been making lots of noise about wanting to see evidence to support the harsh penalties against the Saints. The NFL is not obligated to produce any evidence. But maybe the league should do so in this case. The public outrage by New Orleans fans has been so strong that the league might want to consider putting the ledger and some other evidence out there. I know the league wants to protect confidential informants. But the ledger and some other tangible evidence might be enough to satisfy the cries for evidence. Besides, one of the league’s mantras throughout all this is that bounty programs can never again exist anywhere. The other 31 teams would see the evidence as well and that may scare them off from doing anything similar in the future.
  • The same knee that has limited Carolina right tackle Jeff Otah the past few years has flared up again. Otah has had some tests, but the results aren’t known yet. But this could be significant if Otah has reinjured the knee. The Panthers have kept him around in hopes that he could return as the same dominant run blocker he was before the injury. But he keeps getting hurt. If this injury is anything serious, it might be time for the Panthers to move on. Byron Bell played well in his place last season and the Panthers also added Bruce Campbell for depth. If Otah’s not completely healthy, he’s expendable.
  • Reserve quarterback Jimmy Clausen has been playing well in Carolina’s offseason program. Coach Ron Rivera said he believes Clausen can be an NFL starter. That’s encouraging, but the reality is that Clausen probably never will have the chance to start in Carolina because the Panthers are set with Cam Newton as their franchise quarterback. The best thing Clausen can do is to keep practicing well and put some good film together in preseason games. That could only help him down the road by enhancing his trade value or making a potential target for other teams when he becomes a free agent.
  • Rivera said he views Mike Tolbert primarily as a fullback. But Rivera said Tolbert also can line up as a short-yardage running back or at wide receiver. The Panthers paid Tolbert some good money to sign and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski previously worked with him in San Diego. I’m sure you’ll sometimes see Tolbert serving as the lead blocker for DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But I also think Chudzinski will find some other creative ways to get him involved in the offense.
  • Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano threw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Tampa Bay Rays game. Let’s just say his pitch was a bit high. It nearly hit the backstop on the fly.
  • Scott Carasik writes that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is poised for a breakout season. I tend to agree with him. Ryan’s been pretty good throughout his career and he had his best statistical season last year. He also goes about things the right way in his preparation and is an excellent leader. But I think he’s been held back by several things. Ryan has an excellent supporting cast at the skill positions and the Falcons are working to improve the offensive line. Perhaps more importantly, Dirk Koetter now is the offensive coordinator. From everything I’ve heard Koetter is putting in a system that’s better suited for Ryan’s skills than what the Falcons ran under predecessor Mike Mularkey. If Ryan can just win a playoff game or two, I think this is the year he takes the leap from pretty good to elite. Plus, a playoff win or two would go a long way in getting fans and the media off Ryan's back.

Around the NFC South

May, 19, 2012
5/19/12
8:08
AM ET
A quick look at the Saturday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

Perhaps the most tragic story of this offseason belongs to Tampa Bay defensive tackle Brian Price. His sister recently died in a car accident. This isn’t the first tragedy for Price. Previously, two of his brothers died at young ages. Price talked extensively about how devastating the latest loss has been. He also said he hopes to adopt his sister’s two young sons and bring them to Tampa.

The Panthers will take to the practice field next week, and are expecting often-injured right tackle Jeff Otah to be working out. But coach Ron Rivera made it clear that the starting job doesn’t automatically belong to Otah. That’s the right approach. Otah’s talented, but he hasn’t really played in this offensive system. More importantly, Otah has to show he can stay on the field. Byron Bell played well at right tackle last season. Otah might have far more natural talent than Bell, but it sure sounds like Rivera is saying Otah has to clearly win the job.

Owner Tom Benson said the goal for the Saints this season is to make history by becoming the first team to ever win the Super Bowl in its own stadium.

Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff successfully completed his 40-mile route on Bike to Work Day.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD