NFC South: NFC South mailbag
Cory in Cardington, Ohio asks what the Falcons will do at running back now that Michael Turner has been released.
Pat Yasinskas: I know there’s been a lot of talk about Steven Jackson. That may be a possibility, but I’m against it. Jackson’s would be a short-term upgrade over Turner. But he’s not much younger than Turner and wouldn’t be a long-term solution. Personally, I think the best route for the Falcons is to draft a running back (someone like Wisconsin’s Montee Ball) and pair him with Jacquizz Rodgers. The Falcons are a pass-first team now. They don’t need a superstar running back. They just need a young set of legs to pair with Rodgers.
Carlito in Newberry, S.C. asks about the possibility of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pursuing cornerback Dunta Robinson.
PY: I think that’s something the Bucs have to at least look at. Robinson’s an experienced cornerback with plenty left in the tank. Fans in Atlanta will tell you he was a bust. While it’s true he never played up to his huge contract, he wasn’t horrible. The Bucs could do a lot worse than Robinson. But, even if they sign Robinson, they need to add at least one other starting-caliber cornerback.
Jeremy in Lafayette, La. asks where the Saints stand in relation to the salary cap.
PY: It’s a very fluid situation, but the Saints are getting close. Not all the reported restructures have been turned yet. But, if the reports are right, my calculations put the Saints somewhere between $2.5 and $3 million over the cap. Of course, there also is the possibility there have been other restructures that we don’t know about yet and the Saints still could release some veterans to create more space. But the bottom line is they’re getting close to the cap and they’ll be under it by March 12.
Justo in Los Angeles asks if any of the young players on Carolina’s roster are capable of stepping into the No. 1 cornerback role if the Panthers release Chris Gamble.
PY: Josh Norman and Josh Thomas are promising young cornerbacks. But, at this point, I don’t see them being ready to be more than No. 2 or No. 3 guys. If Gamble goes, the Panthers have to get a No. 1 cornerback. The draft certainly is a possibility if a good corner makes it to the middle of the first round. If not, the Panthers will have to go the free-agency route. But the problem there is good cornerbacks aren’t cheap and the Panthers aren’t going to have a lot of salary-cap room.
Josh in Ohio wrote to say thanks for the history lesson on the Bucs and said the team has too bright a future to be receiving undue criticism.
Pat Yasinskas: Agreed. I think the Bucs clearly are headed in the right direction. I think what some fans are failing to realize is that the team currently is using a very calculated plan that goes away from what Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen did (spend money on free agents and use them as patchwork) and getting back to something closer to the formula Tony Dungy and Rich McKay used (build through the draft and keep your core players for the long term). Although there's no real meddling in football operations, ownership is more involved in forming philosophies than fans realize. I think the Glazer family realized the Gruden/Allen formula wasn’t one that brought consistent success. I believe the Glazers might have instructed Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik when they were hired that they were to follow this kind of plan.
Ryan in Tampa asks if the Bucs might take a shot on Terrelle Pryor since backup quarterback Josh Johnson can become a free agent after the season.
Pat Yasinskas: I’m not sure what Tampa Bay’s scouting department thinks of Pryor. I know some other scouting departments around the league have mixed opinions. Some think he can develop into a decent NFL quarterback over time. Others think he might have to move to tight end or receiver to have a chance in the NFL. I’m sure the Bucs, like every other team in the NFL, have done their homework on Pryor. If they see a fit at the right price, he might be worth a shot.
Dan in Omaha says I’m wrong in calling Cam Newton’s first performance “solid." He says Newton is a project and Jimmy Clausen should be the regular-season starter.
Pat Yasinskas: As always, you’re free to disagree with me. But I thought Newton was solid. I didn’t see him throw any interceptions (and I saw Clausen have one returned for a touchdown) and several of his throws were either dropped or on target, but broken up by good coverage. I thought Clausen had some good moments as well. But, hey, it doesn’t really matter what you and I think. The decision will be made by Ron Rivera and his staff. From everything I’ve heard, they likely will go with Newton as their opening-day starter if he doesn’t make a bunch of major mistakes in Friday’s preseason start at Miami.
Lloyd in Baton Rouge, La., says he’s worried about the Saints’ tackle situation and became even more worried after the release of Jon Stinchcomb.
Pat Yasinskas: It’s a legitimate worry, but sometimes you have to get younger to get better. Stinchcomb’s play dropped off last year and the Saints must feel as if Zach Strief or Charles Brown can be an improvement over him in the long haul. I know people also criticize left tackle Jermon Bushrod and say he’s nothing special. There’s some truth to that, but he must be doing something right. The Saints have done pretty well in the two seasons Bushrod has started. Plus, Sean Payton has a pretty strong offensive mind and his system is built more toward having the strength of the offensive line on the interior.
Chugs in Memphis asks why it seems like the Saints are bringing along rookie defensive end Cameron Jordan so slowly.
Pat Yasinskas: The Saints seem to be bringing all their rookies along slowly, except for running back Mark Ingram. If you look at recent history, that’s not all that unusual for New Orleans, which is in a different situation than a team like Tampa Bay that relies on immediate help from the draft. The Saints didn’t play Malcolm Jenkins all that much as a rookie and he became a star last season. Last year’s top pick, Patrick Robinson, didn’t play a great deal as a rookie, but there’s hope he can blossom this year. That said, I still think you might start seeing more of Jordan, especially if Will Smith is suspended for the first four games of the season.
Matthew in Atlanta asks for my early impressions on Julio Jones.
Pat Yasinskas: Nothing but positives. A lot of times, colleges and NFL teams inflate a players’ size on the roster. Jones is listed at 6-foot-3. I was introduced to him in the cafeteria at Flowery Branch and stood face to face with him. I’m almost 6-3 and definitely felt like I was looking up at Jones. Out on the practice field, he was more impressive. I saw him making plays in the deep game and in some shorter routes. I also didn’t see any of the drops he supposedly had a problem with at Alabama. In the preseason opener, he was electric, gaining first downs the first three times he touched the ball. You can’t ask for a better start than that.
Ben in Suwanee, Ga., asks about the health of Tampa Bay defensive tackle Brian Price.
Pat Yasinskas: He’s recovering from a very complex surgery on his pelvis. He showed up at the players-only workouts the Bucs had in June, but wasn’t able to participate. He said he had only recently started running. I don’t see any way Price is ready for the start of training camp. I don’t know if he’ll be ready for the start of the season. The Bucs will probably have to open the year with Gerald McCoy and Roy Miller as their starters and they have some other young players who can provide depth. But it looks like it might be some time before the Bucs see any return from their second-round draft pick from a year ago.
James in Kings Mountain, N.C., asks what I meant when I said Jerry Richardson’s comment about Steve Smith not being on the forefront of his mind might have been made by design.
Pat Yasinskas: Obviously, Richardson’s been very busy with the labor negotiations and I think that was at least part of what he was referencing. However, Smith is a very sensitive personality. Richardson’s also a very smart man, who usually thinks before saying something. I think it’s at least possible Richardson was sending a message to Smith to be prepared as soon as the lockout is over to let the team know if he wants to be traded or not. Things are going to move very quickly once the labor situation is resolved and the Panthers don’t want drama hanging over them.
Justin in San Francisco commented on my “commissioner for a day" piece on putting a team in London and wonders if Mexico City might make more sense.
Pat Yasinskas: Although I think Roger Goodell has a strong desire to put a team in London, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Mexico City. The NFL has had some games there and the interest level has been high. The Texas teams already enjoy strong popularity in Mexico. Like London, it’s an untapped -- and very large -- market. I could see the NFL ending up there at some point. Heck, maybe the next expansion teams could be London and Mexico City.
JB in Valdez, Texas, asks how I can say that none of the Atlanta offensive linemen are stars.
Pat Yasinskas: Mainly because they’re not stars. Tyson Clabo’s probably the best of the bunch and scouts and coaches won’t tell you he’s a star. Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl are solid guards, but they’re far from spectacular. Todd McClure is a very reliable veteran center, but he’s nearing the end of his career. Left tackle Sam Baker hasn’t lived up to his status as a first-round pick. All that said, I think that group of linemen has done an excellent job of playing together as a unit the last few seasons. I think offensive line coach Paul Boudreau deserves a ton of credit for getting the most out of what he has to work with.
Sam in Norman, Okla., asks if Reggie Bush would rather take more money elsewhere or stay with the Saints and have a shot at more championships.
Pat Yasinskas: I’m not even going to attempt to read Reggie Bush’s mind. There have been athletes through the years who have been willing to take less money to play for a team they think has a chance to be great. There also have been others who have gone straight for the money. Once the labor situation is resolved, we should find out very quickly which category Bush falls into.
Shane in Hickory, N.C., wonders what kind of contract offer the Panthers might make to keep linebacker Thomas Davis.
Pat Yasinskas: That’s an interesting one because Davis is a fantastic player. But he’s coming back from two major knee injuries. If he were fully healthy, the Panthers -- and a lot of other teams -- would be willing to pay him big money. But he’s a huge question mark. Davis has said he wants to stay in Carolina and I’ve gotten inklings from the Panthers they would like to keep him. Obviously, nobody is going to offer Davis a huge contract with lots of guaranteed money. I suspect the Panthers might try to get a little creative and offer him a contract that’s heavy on incentives. That way, if he comes back as the player he was before the injuries, he’ll be well-compensated.
Brian in Surprise, Ariz., wrote to say he knows I don’t like the Atlanta Falcons’ pick of Julio Jones or any of the team’s draft picks and goes on to explain how he sees Jones and running back Jacquizz Rodgers fitting into the offense.
Pat Yasinskas: Brian, I’ve got a surprise for you. I do like Atlanta’s draft. I like it very much. The only thing I can surmise as to why you think I didn’t like the draft was that I mentioned the cost of trading up to get Jones was steep. There’s no denying that. But Jones is a very talented receiver, and he’s coming to a team that wanted to add an explosive receiver. Rodgers should be a great fit in an offense that hasn’t really had a speed back the past few years. He should be what Jerious Norwood was supposed to be. I don’t see a true weakness on this offense.
Matt in Camden, N.J., wrote to ask why we’ve made such a big deal about Drew Brees organizing workouts with the Saints while there has been only casual mention about Josh Freeman and some of the Buccaneers working out together in Tampa.
Pat Yasinskas: Excellent question, so let me explain the difference. Brees assembled roughly 40 Saints at Tulane University and opened the first day to the media. It was a large-scale event, magnified by the fact that the Saints truly are the only thing that matters in New Orleans. (I know the Hornets are there, but they exist in the hefty shadow of the Saints.) Freeman’s been doing things a little more quietly and not on nearly as large a scale, and I salute him for going about his business quietly. Freeman’s gone out to the University of South Florida and worked out with some receivers and a few running backs. He’s also gone down to a private training facility with some teammates near Bradenton. The Tampa Bay media’s been kind of tied up with NHL’s Lightning and MLB’s Rays, so Freeman’s workouts haven’t been a huge local story. Some members of the Panthers and Falcons also are working out in smaller groups. But like the Bucs, they’re not getting as much attention because they didn’t bring in most of the roster and open up a whole session to the media.
Will in Middletown, Conn., asks what the Saints must do differently this season if they’re going to get back to winning the Super Bowl.
Pat Yasinskas: There were two big differences I saw between the 2009 season and the 2010 season for the Saints. In 2009, the defense produced turnovers in bunches and capitalized on them. That didn’t happen nearly as often last season. The other difference was on offense. The running game in 2010 just wasn’t as consistent as it was in 2009. Injuries played a big role in that. In theory, the Saints addressed both issues with their first two draft picks. Defensive end Cameron Jordan should bring more pressure up front, and pressure on quarterbacks should lead to more turnovers. Adding Mark Ingram to the backfield also should give the Saints more depth and consistency in the running game.
Michael in Perry, Ga., asks what I think about the Carolina Panthers possibly bringing back Jake Delhomme to serve as a mentor to Cam Newton.
Pat Yasinskas: On the surface, there are some merits to that suggestion. Delhomme’s a good guy to have in your locker room and he has plenty of experience. I respect and like Delhomme as much as any player I’ve ever covered. But I think fans get a little too caught up in the “mentor’’ role. Like just about any athlete, Delhomme’s a competitive guy and he’s going to do his best to try to get on the field. I’m not saying he would do anything to undercut Newton, and he could provide some help. But the Panthers are moving far away from their past, and I don’t think it would be productive to bring back Delhomme. In fact, I’ll say I don’t think the Panthers need to add a veteran quarterback at all. They’ve got Newton, Jimmy Clausen and Tony Pike. Adding a veteran would mean they’d have to unload a young guy with upside. I think the “mentor’’ thing is overrated. The Panthers have Rob Chudzinski as their offensive coordinator and Mike Shula as their quarterbacks coach. They can be the mentors. I know everybody's talking about how young the Panthers are at quarterback, and that's true. But the fact is, their current group of quarterbacks has more career starts (10 by Clausen last season) than last year's group. The Panthers opened last season with Matt Moore, Clausen and Pike as the three quarterbacks on the roster. Moore had eight career starts entering the season, and Clausen and Pike were rookies.
That’s why I’ve decided to do a series of team-by-team mailbags or “hot spots’’ this weekend. Although there looks to be plenty to work with for each team, I’ll throw out this request now. If you’ve got a question, send it in as soon as you can. Here’s the link to send to the mailbag.
I’ll give it a little time for you to send fresh questions and will jump back into it and start rolling out the team-by-team hot spots a bit later this afternoon.
Rob in Houston Texas (and numerous others) asks if Carson Palmer, who reportedly wants out of Cincinnati, could be a possibility for the Carolina Panthers.
Pat Yasinskas: I can see the logic in this and, personally, like the idea. If there isn’t really a franchise quarterback in this draft, Palmer could come in and allow the Panthers to try to develop Jimmy Clausen slowly or at least give them another year for Andrew Luck to enter the draft. But it’s really going to be up to Carolina general manager Marty Hurney, new coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. They’re all just getting started with the scouting process and they’re at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. this week. They have to see if there is a quarterback they really like in this draft. Hurney supervised the start of a youth movement last year and I don’t anticipate the Panthers veering too far from that. But, if they don’t like the quarterback prospects in the draft, I could see the Panthers making an exception and going after Palmer or some other veteran. Last season showed the importance of the quarterback position for the Panthers. They have some good players elsewhere, but the struggles at quarterback dragged the whole team down. A short-term fix might be a consideration.
Brian in Columbus, Ga. asks if there is any chance the Falcons fire defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
Pat Yasinskas: Don’t think so. If that was going to happen, it already would have. Yes, the defense had a horrible outing against Green Bay in the playoff loss, but it wasn’t bad during the regular season. It’s easy to put the blame on one guy. But coach Mike Smith has a strong defensive background and is heavily involved in how that defense is run.
Chris in Virginia says it would be a huge mistake for the Buccaneers to let Davin Joseph go and they need to re-sign him before he escapes as a free agent.
Pat Yasinskas: Agree that letting Joseph go as a free agent would be a big mistake. He’s a top-notch guard and he and left tackle Donald Penn give the Bucs the nucleus for a strong offensive line. I suspect the Bucs will try to re-sign Joseph. They know he’s a good player and they will have plenty of salary-cap room. But I don’t anticipate anything happening until a new labor deal is reached. The Bucs and every other team in the league are waiting to see how the labor situation sorts out.
Matt in Ventura, Calif. asks what are the chances of Tanard Jackson returning to the Buccaneers next season.
Pat Yasinskas: Jackson was suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy for one year and that started in late September 2010. He’s not eligible to apply for reinstatement until late September of this year. The Bucs cannot release or trade him while he is on the suspended list. His contract ran only through the 2010 season, so his status is very much in limbo right now. He’s a talented player and I believe the Bucs would like to keep him if he gets reinstated and has his life under control. But they have to prepare to at least go the first few games of next season without him.
Mike in New Orleans says he has no problem with my selection of Josh Freeman as the NFC South’s Most Valuable Player. But he argues that the New Orleans offense is “nothing’’ without Brees and the Saints probably win only two or three games without him. He asks if I can say the same thing about Tampa Bay.
Pat Yasinskas: If you look back at the column, I took it even further with Tampa Bay. I said it’s my belief the Bucs would have gone 0-16 without Freeman. I’ve seen Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter in practice and I don’t think either one of them would be effective. I agree the hypothetical loss of Brees would hurt the New Orleans offense. But I think you could plug Chase Daniel in with that cast of receivers and still have a competitive offense and, aside from the postseason, the defense was pretty good. The Saints still would win some games without Brees, but it would help if their running game was a bit more consistent than it was last season.
Pat Yasinskas: Well, if people called the Buccaneers cheap for not re-signing Bryant, then they had no idea what they were talking about. The decision not to re-sign Bryant had nothing to do with money. Bryant made that decision for the Bucs with his actions last season and the decision was made long before the season was even close to being over. Bryant was a receiver who the Bucs rescued off the scrap heap and he responded with a big season in 2008. After that, Bryant began making a lot of noise about wanting a huge, long-term contract. The Bucs wanted a little more evidence that Bryant really had turned his life and career around before making a long-term commitment. That’s why they made him a restricted free agent last year, which basically guaranteed Bryant $10 million for one season. Bryant kept griping about that, didn’t really produce on the field, blamed his sore knee on the plane trip home from London, took repeated shots at rookie quarterback Josh Freeman and questioned the coaching staff. That’s the textbook version of how to play your way out of any town. I wrote multiple times late last season that Bryant was on his way out. The first time I wrote that, a pretty important figure with the Bucs called me up and said, “That’s a pretty good read on the AB situation." Again, that one wasn’t about money and the Bucs are looking pretty good right now for letting Bryant walk.
Chad in Las Vegas writes: Peter Finney is going to be honored at the Hall of Fame ceremonies. Can you give the people that aren't familiar with his work with the New Orleans Saints some background on him? I grew up in N.O. and enjoyed his articles and commentary with The Times Picayune.
Pat Yasinskas: I am thrilled that you asked because I don’t want Peter to be overshadowed by the players inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday. Peter is the legendary sports columnist for The New Orleans Times Picayune. He will receive the Dick McCann Award for long-time excellence in writing about football. I’ve known Peter since I’ve been covering the league, but have gotten to be around him even more since I’ve been doing the NFC South Blog. He’s one of the true gentlemen in our business and a man who doesn’t have to ask for respect because he’s earned so much of it. I think of Peter a lot like I think of Tom McEwen, the legendary former sports editor of The Tampa Tribune and the man who first hired me in this business. I had the honor of sitting next to McEwen at hundreds of games. I didn’t get to work that closely with Peter, but my buddy Jeff Duncan has. So let’s turn it over to Dunk to go a little deeper on the Finney story. One other thing on Finney -- he's the guy that made the presentation to the voters that helped get Rickey Jackson elected to the Hall of Fame.
Jeff in Charleston, S.C., writes: I was dumbfounded when I read (on another media outlet) that one of the biggest defensive-line stories in Falcons training camp is Jamaal Anderson. He supposedly has impressed from the DE position since camp started and continues to improve. Is this legit or just coaches being hopeful?
Pat Yasinskas: I’ll be able to tell you more Monday when I get up to Atlanta’s camp and see Anderson in person and have a chance to talk to the coaches. However, my gut reaction on this is it’s the old hope-springs-eternal story. There are guys everywhere ever year that we all write about how this might be the year things are really going to turn around. Think Dwayne Jarrett and Michael Clayton. Hey, I think I’ve even written about high hopes for Anderson at some point in the past couple of preseasons. You never know. But the bottom line is that Anderson, so far, has been a flop as a defensive end. He’s been adequate when he has moved inside to defensive tackle.
Adam in Columbia, S.C., writes: The feeling so many fans and media have that Panthers will not be good because of their "youth movement" just doesn't make sense to me. Take for example the Chargers. They have a younger roster than the Panthers and are once again considered to be an elite team in the NFL. Why does youth in the Panthers camp spell doom, but it is ignored on the side of the Chargers? Smells like a double standard to me.
Pat Yasinskas: Valid point and I think the Panthers will have a winning record. However, to answer your question, I think the perception on the Panthers is that they have a lot of question marks and a lot of people really don’t know anything about Matt Moore. That isn’t the case with San Diego’s Philip Rivers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We just started the mailbag last week and you guys have filled it up in a hurry. Some of the questions, especially on Jeremy Shockey, were similar so I tried to pick questions that were representative of others. I leave on my NFC South training camp tour tomorrow, so please hit me with more questions and let me know what you'd like to hear about at each stop. Here's the first installment of answers to your mailbag questions.
C.R. in Charlotte writes: Everyone is talking about the number 2 starting WR but just as big a problem or bigger problem is who will be starting at the opposite DE spot of J. peppers. McGlover/Johnson/Brayton..none of these guys sound like they can help the pathetic panther pass rush.
Pat Yasinskas: Yes, this sure looks like a weak spot right now as I pointed out in a post last week. Stanley McClover, Charles Johnson and Tyler Brayton don't have proven track records, but John Fox is betting that at least one of them can step up.
Ben in Hartford writes: Charlotte native here (now in CT the last 5 years) - just wanted to say it'll be nice to have some Panthers perspective for the 08-09 season. I really used to enjoy reading your work while you were at the Observer. Quick question - why does the media think that Carolina is a potential home for Farve if the Pack releases him? I recognize that Carolina hasn't been at the forefront of these stories like Minnesota or Chicago, but it seems ridiculous to me that Carolina would even consider investing in Favre when they've already got a gunslinger type QB in Delhomme. I can't see either of these guys willing to back the other one up. Your thoughts?
Pat Yasinskas: There's been speculation about Favre and the Panthers, but I don't think it's anything more than speculation. I've talked to some people with the Panthers and they're confident Jake Delhomme will make a full recovery. They're sticking with their guy.
Arte Bo in Biloxi, Miss., writes: With the Saints adding Jeremy Shockey to the team, will the Saints be a Super Bowl contender?
Pat Yasinskas: I already thought the Saints were nearly a Super Bowl contender and the best team in the NFC South. Shockey only makes them better. He'll bring a lot more balance to their offense and make Drew Brees and Marques Colston better.
Jonathan in New Orleans writes: A local writer by the name of Peter Finney recently wrote an article saying the Saints gave up too much for Jeremy Shockey considering the state of "the defense." What do you think? How will the defense fair in 08?
Pat Yasinskas: Peter's a great writer, but I've got a different point of view. I think the Saints took their shot because they think Shockey can be the one ingredient that makes their offense truly great. They did get some help for the defense with Jonathan Vilma and Sedrick Ellis. That's going to help. I don't know if the defense will be great. But a great offense and a decent defense could be good enough.