NFC South: NFL meeting
Things are officially scheduled to get started until Monday morning, but I plan to do some lobby watching Sunday afternoon. Owners, general managers and coaches will be arriving and there are some committee meetings Sunday.
The New Orleans Saints have issued a few statements about their bounty scandal, but team officials have yet to talk publicly about it. That could change because there likely will be a swarm media members chasing Saints owner Tom Benson.
It still is unclear if coach Sean Payton will attend the meeting. Coaches generally are required to be at this meeting and Payton technically still is the coach of the Saints until he begins a one-year suspension April 1. The team has yet to announce how it plans to proceed in Payton’s absence. But I suspect we’ll find out much more in the next few days.
I’ll check back in later this afternoon.
We’ll have much more over the next couple days, but I’ll give you a preview. I had a very good chat with Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith this afternoon and will have a column tomorrow in which the coach talks about what the Falcons need to do to take the next step. They’ve had winning records in each of Smith’s three seasons, but have yet to win a playoff game. He’s got some ideas on how to fix that and we’ll put those out on the table.
Also, I had a nice visit with John Fox and his wife Robin. Fox isn’t in the NFC South anymore. He’s coaching in Denver. But he’s a guy I covered throughout his time in Carolina and, despite his shortness with the media, we’ve got some good history. Let’s just say Fox is looking well and seems excited about getting a fresh start.
I’ve got plans to meet with Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff and Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney on Monday. I spoke briefly with Carolina owner Jerry Richardson, but that was just a visit and nothing formal. He’s been given an offer to talk on the record about the labor situation over the next few days and he said that’s at least a possibility.
We’ll also see if any other NFC South owners are talking. I’m planning to get with Carolina coach Ron Rivera, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris and New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton on Tuesday.
Also, we should have the list of compensatory draft picks either Monday or Tuesday.
Justin in San Francisco asks whether compensatory picks still will be issued in a lockout and what the Panthers might expect as compensation for losing Julius Peppers.
Pat Yasinskas: All indications are the compensatory picks will be announced, as usual, at the NFL meeting. That starts Monday in New Orleans, and I’ll be there. I’ll share the picks with you as soon as I get them. I think it’s pretty safe to assume the Panthers will get a third-round pick to compensate for Peppers. Just a reminder, teams can't trade compensatory picks.
Alan in Daytona Beach, Fla., asks whether the Bucs should make a play for Randy Moss and says he could help the development of Josh Freeman.
Pat Yasinskas: No, don’t do it! Alan’s question also mentioned the injury to Arrelious Benn as another reason the Bucs could look to Moss. But all indications are that Benn’s injury is healing well and that he should be fine for the start of the regular season. The Bucs also have some other young receivers, like Dezmon Briscoe and Sammie Stroughter, they like. Of course, Mike Williams already is established as the No. 1 guy. Moss comes with way more downside than upside. Yeah, he still might be able to make some plays, but the guy can disrupt a locker room. If you look at the way the Bucs approached last season, it sure looked like they wanted to surround Freeman with a group of young receivers and let them grow up together. That seemed to work very nicely. Why mess up a good thing? If the Bucs want to add another receiver somewhere later in the draft, fine. But they don’t need any more than that.
Bryson in Atlanta wonders whether the Falcons should make a play for Moss.
Pat Yasinskas: See the above answer and now we’ll tailor it to Atlanta’s situation. Coach Mike Smith is a big believer in chemistry in the locker room. Top receiver Roddy White is a unique character and he’s thrived in recent years. Like a lot of receivers, White has a personality that sometimes can push the envelope a bit. But Smith does a nice job keeping that in check. If you throw Moss into the equation, you push the chances of White or Moss really stepping into “throw me the ball’’ territory. Atlanta can get a speed receiver in the draft and still use Michael Jenkins and some other guys as decent role players. No need to do anything too dramatic here.
Dave in Valdosta, Ga., wrote to ask whether there is any chance of the Bucs trading backup quarterback Josh Johnson and picking up a veteran such as Marc Bulger.
Pat Yasinskas: I’d be all for it. If the Bucs could actually get any draft pick for Josh Johnson, I’d take that. I’d like to see them have a dependable veteran backup like Bulger, who seems to have the personality to handle such a role after being a starter much of his career. However, that’s just my opinion, and I don’t think you’ll see anything like this happen. Raheem Morris and his staff seem to be content with Johnson.
Zach in Peachtree City wrote to say he thinks the Panthers official website has been writing a lot about Patrick Robinson lately and asks whether that’s a sign Carolina could be looking to take the cornerback with the first overall pick.
Pat Yasinskas: Can’t speak for the team’s official website. But let’s just say that most teams are pretty controlling of their own sites. It’s highly unlikely any team is going to telegraph its draft plans, and I can assure you that doesn’t fit Marty Hurney’s profile. In fact, I’d be more inclined to say what you’re seeing is a smoke screen.
This isn’t likely to have big implications for the NFC South because the complicated system for determining picks is based in large part on how many free agents teams lost and gained last year. Most NFC South teams weren’t major players in free agency and most did a good job of keeping key players from leaving via free agency.
This isn’t an exact science, but colleague John Clayton and I ran through our best guesses on the NFC South when we talked on the phone earlier today.
We think it’s pretty likely the Carolina Panthers are going to be the only NFC South team that’s going to really matter in the compensatory picks. The Panthers lost Julius Peppers and several other free agents. Our best guess is that Carolina will end up with a third- and a sixth-round pick. Teams can trade their own draft picks but not compensatory picks.
Clayton and I don’t see the Atlanta Falcons getting any compensatory picks. Tampa Bay and New Orleans each have a chance to add what probably will be a seventh-round pick.
In a media conference call to advance next week’s league meeting Wednesday morning, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league will release the schedule sometime in mid-April. An exact date hasn’t been set.
But there’s one thing about this that could be very interesting from an NFC South perspective and we may not have to wait until April for an answer. At times, the NFL has gone ahead and announced the prime-time games for the opening week at the spring meeting. If that happens again, we could have some excitement in what’s been an otherwise dull offseason.
The Green Bay Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions, which means they’ll get the Thursday night season opener at Lambeau Field. If you look at Green Bay’s list of home opponents, there really are only two, maybe three, marquee games.
The New Orleans Saints are scheduled to play in Green Bay this year. It would be more than logical to pair the last two Super Bowl champions to open the season. The only other real strong competitor for this game would be the Chicago Bears and that would be a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game.
We’ll throw in one long shot. That’s the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also are slated to play at Lambeau this year. The Bucs were 10-6 last season and have some promising young stars like Josh Freeman, Mike Williams and LeGarrette Blount. I’m thinking Tampa Bay will get at least one prime-time game this year and it will probably be on the road because the league probably doesn’t want to showcase a half-empty Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs would provide a decent opening opponent for the Packers, but money and television ratings talk and the Saints or Bears probably would be a more logical fit for this game.
The good news was there was no talk about labor news -- the focus was on football matters as the NFL prepares for its annual spring meeting. I’ll be heading to New Orleans on Sunday to cover that and the meeting officially starts Monday.
Before McKay and Anderson got into some possible rules changes, the NFL cleared up a situation that had been very uncertain in recent days. All 32 coaches are expected to attend and they’ll meet with the media Tuesday morning. In other words, I’ll have time to get with Sean Payton, Mike Smith, Raheem Morris and Ron Rivera and bring you what they have to say.
In another matter, an NFL spokesman said the league continues to work on its 2011 regular-season schedule and that’s expected to be announced, as usual, in mid-April. The spokesman didn’t give any hints if some of the opening-week prime-time games will be announced at the league meeting, but that’s been known to happen in the past.
New Orleans fans won’t be happy to hear there is no plan to propose a new seeding process for the playoffs. That comes after the Saints went 11-5, but drew the No. 6 seed and a trip to No. 4 Seattle, which went 7-9 and won the NFC West. McKay said the competition committee discussed a look at changing the seeding, but there didn’t appear to be enough momentum from teams to even make a proposal.
Our John Clayton will be posting much more on the rule changes that are proposed over on our main NFL page in just a bit. But the most significant proposal, at least in my eyes, is one to make some major modifications on kickoffs. Due to a high rate of injuries on kickoffs, McKay said the committee will propose moving the spot of the kickoff from the 30-yard line to the 35 and players on the kicking team would have to line up within five yards of the ball.
The proposal also includes moving the spot of touchbacks to the receiving team’s 25-yard line from the 20. Penalties for kicks going out of bounds still would result in the ball being placed at the receiving team’s 40-yard line. The proposal also would eliminate all wedge blocks, including the two-man wedge.
It’s back up now and a team spokesman said it was taken down due to the “uncertainty’’ surrounding the league’s labor situation. I just checked all four NFC South team websites and each of them is showing a roster -- at the moment.
Speaking of “uncertainty,’’ there’s a lot of it going around. This is the time of year when the NFL world generally gets ready for the annual spring meeting. It’s generally the biggest business meeting of the year and lots of people from all areas of the league generally attend.
Well, this year’s going to be different, but we have no idea how different just yet. I’ll be leaving Sunday for New Orleans where the league meeting, or some semblance of it, is scheduled to start Monday. At this point, all we know for sure is that Wednesday there will be a conference call featuring Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, who chairs the competition committee, and NFL vice president of football operations Ray Anderson.
They’re supposed to give the media a preview of some rules and issues the competition committee will be working on at the meeting. I’m pretty sure McKay and Anderson aren’t going to be fielding any labor questions.
Once we get to the actual meeting, it’s going to be interesting to see who shows. In normal years, the league has a breakfast where media can talk with AFC coaches one day and NFC coaches another. Almost always, all the coaches are there. But league officials so far have said there might be some sort of scaled-down version of the media sessions with coaches.
In talking to officials from several NFC South teams today, there seems to be uncertainty about whether their coaches will be attending the meeting.
First, a reminder that our weekly NFC South chat will be held Friday at 1 p.m. ET. Here's the link.
Speaking of chatting, I did some of that last night with a couple of Penn State students. You can listen right here.
Finally, I’ll be heading over to Orlando this weekend. We’ll be covering the NFL owner's meeting, which is officially scheduled to begin Monday. But most NFL folks will be arriving Sunday, so I’ll be working the hotel lobby that day and looking for visitors from the NFC South.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The NFL meeting is over and it's time to get back to normal. Time to focus back on the NFC South and a question that was floated at me a few times (by readers and even my boss) yesterday.
Could the Bucs -- and we're talking only about right now -- be the best team in the NFC?
Crazy as that may seem to some of you, that may not be that far-fetched. I know, I kind of laughed when I first heard it. But give it a little thought -- and, remember, we're talking about right now.
Our Power Rankings this week placed the Bucs at No. 7, behind the Giants (they're No. 2, despite getting beat by Cleveland), No. 5 Washington and No. 6 Dallas. All three of those NFC East teams are coming off a loss. The Bucs are coming off a win and they've got games against Seattle and Dallas, minus Tony Romo, coming up.
If this were a college poll, I think you could make a case that Tampa Bay should have been placed ahead of the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys this week. I don't think the Bucs are the best team in the NFC in the grand scheme of things, but I think -- right now -- they should be ranked ahead of the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys this week.
Think about it. Those three lost to the Browns, Rams and Cardinals, respectively. Heck, you could even make a case for the red-hot Falcons to be ranked in the top five.
What do you think? Have at it below.