NFC South: Nnamdi Asomugha

Film of the NFC South chat

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
3:04
PM ET
Time to take a look at the team-by-team highlights from Friday's NFC South chat:

ATLANTA FALCONS

David (Atlanta): any chance the falcons go after revis?

Pat Yasinskas: No, absolutely no chance. They wouldn't be able to pay him and Matt Ryan both.

Dave (NY): Hi Pat, the general consensus seems to be that Clabo was cut because of cap-issues - but what about the simple fact that he was cut because The Falcons simply just want to get a younger O-line (Kontz already replacing McClure)?

PY: There's some truth to that. And people that know more about o-line play than I do seem to think Clabo's play dropped off last season.

Matt (NJ) [via mobile]: Do you think John Abraham will be falcon by the start of the season

PY: I really doubt it. I think once you make a decision like that it's final.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Tyler (Panthers fan) (In Class): I entirely agree with your article on Williams and Stewart. It was so frustrating for me watching that first half of the season. Let Cam be a qb and let double trouble do their thing. What are shula's tendencies when it comes to offense? will he do just that?

PY: I'm looking forward to seeing Shula's offense. I think he's a better coach than people in Tampa Bay and Alabama give him credit for. He worked with what he had to work with in those places. He's got the talent to have an explosive offense now. I don't see him being nearly as conservative as he was in the past.

JM (Charlotte): Panthers can't afford to keep the RB trio can they?

PY: They have so far, which surprised me. If they're going to trade anyone, Williams is the one that makes most sense.

Murph (Charlotte) [via mobile]: What do the Panthers have to do To get DeAngelo to see That restructuring is the best thing for him?

PY: Give him money up front and don't ask him to take a cut in pay. In other words, convert most of his base salary into signing bonus money.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Todd (New Orleans): Pat, what have you heard about Nnamdi Asomugha's reasons for choosing the 49ers over the Saints?

PY: Think he just wanted to get back to Bay Area.

Stout or Porter? (In Bruges): How much of a rebound do you see from the Saints this year?

PY: Potential is there for a big rebound. They obviously have the offense. Just need to get up a little better on defense.

Steve A (Ventura CA): Pat, I'm a big Saints fan and I read you blog daily. Do you see Clabo pulling a Lofton and going over to the Saints? Even though he's older and not great, I see him being a good fit because of his price tag and the fact that the Saints have solid guards to pair him up with, like Strief. Thoughts?

PY: I would not totally rule that out. Think he could fit there. Problem is the salary cap. Saints really have very little room to work with and I think some other teams are willing to pay Clabo decent money.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Preston (New York): I'm tired of the Bucs-Jets rumblings involving Revis. At this point, would it be more of less expensive for the Bucs to trade up high enough to get Dee Milliner? Younger, no ACL injury, and much cheaper. Win?

PY: It is tiring. But sometimes that's how this league works. You've got to be patient to get the best deal. Revis is proven. But I don't think that trading up for Milliner is a bad idea.

Eddie(go bucs) (Saint louis): Any truth to the rumor us fans have created about a revis and tebow trade since we don't have a back up qb?

PY: You think Tebow's a QB? I don't.

Scott (Northglenn, CO): Any reason to be concerned about Doug Martin regressing his second year? More focus on him?

PY: Doubt it. He'll have his two Pro Bowl guards back and that should make him even better.

Here's the complete transcript of Friday's NFC South chat.

No Nnamdi Asomugha for Saints

April, 2, 2013
4/02/13
6:21
PM ET
Nnamdi Asomugha won’t be joining the New Orleans Saints.

The veteran cornerback has agreed to a one-year deal with the San Francisco 49ers, according to Adam Schefter. The deal reportedly could be worth up to $3 million.

But I don’t think Asomugha’s choice of the 49ers over the Saints was about money. The Saints don’t have a lot of cap room, but they could have found a way to make Asomugha fit. I think this might have had more to do with geography than anything else.

Asomugha had spent his career with Oakland before leaving for Philadelphia two years ago. He might have wanted to get back to the Bay Area more than he wanted to go to New Orleans.

It would have been nice for the Saints if Asomugha had decided to play for them because he has history with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. But this isn’t disastrous for the Saints.

They already have signed Keenan Lewis and they still have Jabari Greer and Patrick Robinson on the roster. I think that can be a trio of decent cornerbacks, if the Saints' pass rush gives them some help.

Atlanta's needs are very narrow

April, 1, 2013
4/01/13
8:33
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While it seems like just about every NFL team will be using what’s left of free agency and the NFL draft to address multiple needs, the Atlanta Falcons are in a very unique position.

At least on paper, they only have one hole on their roster.

That’s at cornerback, where the Falcons suddenly became thin with Saturday’s news that Brent Grimes left for Miami as a free agent. The departure of Grimes comes after the Falcons released Dunta Robinson at the start of free agency.

The good news is the Falcons have no other glaring needs after signing defensive end Osi Umenyiora to upgrade the pass rush, signing running back Steven Jackson to improve the running game and coaxing tight end Tony Gonzalez to put off retirement.

The bad news is there might not be a lot of great options at cornerback. Coach Mike Smith and defensive coordinator Mike Nolan frequently talk about how they like to have three cornerbacks that are capable of starting.

Atlanta still has Asante Samuel and Robert McClain, but they’re No. 2 and 3 guys and I don’t think the Falcons view Dominique Franks as anything more than a No. 4 cornerback. That means the Falcons have to add a cornerback, preferably someone that can be a No. 1 guy, in free agency or the draft.

It’s more than likely the Falcons will have to find a cornerback in the draft. The remaining cast of free-agent cornerbacks is highlighted by DeAngelo Hall, Quentin Jammer, Nnamdi Asomugha, Antoine Winfield and Sheldon Brown. Hall, who began his career in Atlanta, probably is off any list off possibilities for the Falcons. Atlanta hasn’t seemed to have shown much interest in the other veterans, but that could change now that Grimes is officially gone.

The Falcons also are limited by a tight salary-cap situation. But there’s no guarantee the Falcons will be able to get a top cornerback at No. 30. Alabama’s Dee Milliner widely is considered a top-10 pick and Washington’s Desmond Trufant and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes are the only two corners consistently projected to go in the first round.

If Trufant or Rhodes lasts until No. 30, the Falcons can fill their one remaining need. But both could be gone before No. 30 and that might prompt general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who has shown a willingness to trade up in the draft and is holding 11 draft picks, to try to jump up higher.

I don’t know that Dimitroff will try to pull off a Julio Jones type of deal to get Milliner. But he might be wise to trade up into the late teens or early 20s to get Trufant or Rhodes.

Get one of those guys and everything on Dimitroff’s offseason list will be crossed off.

Around the NFC South

March, 19, 2013
3/19/13
9:21
AM ET
Let's take a look at the top headlines from around the NFC South:

ATLANTA FALCONS

With the Falcons drafting No. 30 overall, Daniel Cox takes a look at the 20-year history of the pick. The last time the Falcons had the 30th pick was 1999 when they took defensive end Patrick Kerney. He spent eight seasons with the Falcons and was selected to one Pro Bowl. If the Falcons can get an eventual Pro Bowl defensive end out of this draft, I think they’ll be delighted.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

New general manager Dave Gettleman said he understands the frustration from fans because the Panthers have been quiet in free agency. He cited the salary cap as the reason for that, but implied the Panthers will be more active in the second wave of free agency. Once price tags start dropping, the Panthers should be able to afford a free agent or two.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Coach Sean Payton made it sound like the Saints have made their pitch to free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and are waiting for him to make a decision. It’s believed he’ll be choosing between San Francisco and New Orleans, unless another team enters the mix.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

General manager Mark Dominik talked about how rare shutdown corners are. He didn’t get into all the trade rumors about New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who might be the only true shutdown cornerback available this year. But it’s pretty obvious the Bucs are at least interested in Revis. I’m not sure any other team has the ability to trade for Revis and sign him to a long-term contract. So the Bucs might be wise to go slowly and see if the Jets’ asking price drops.

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.

Around the NFC South

March, 17, 2013
3/17/13
10:45
AM ET
Let's take a look at some odds and ends from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Even after bringing in running back Steven Jackson and re-signing most of their own free agents, D. Orlando Ledbetter writes that the Falcons still have some holes to fill. They need a pass-rusher and a cornerback. There still is a chance they could re-sign cornerback Brent Grimes, but it’s looking like the Falcons will have to work on the pass rush in the draft.

Speaking of Grimes, he has met with Cleveland and Miami. But it’s believed the Falcons remain in the mix to keep him.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Two former Panthers signed with the New York Giants. Louis Murphy, who spent last season as the third receiver, is headed to New York. So is linebacker Dan Connor, who spent last year in Dallas, after starting his career in Carolina. The irony here is a lot of people thought new general manager Dave Gettleman would be bringing in lots of players from New York because he previously worked for the Giants. Instead, the pipeline is flowing the other way.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints reportedly are bringing in cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha for a visit. He has history with defensive coordinator Rob Ryan from their time together in Oakland. Even in a depressed market, Asomugha still is likely to command a decent salary. The challenge for the Saints could be fitting Asomugha under their tight salary cap.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Mark Cook writes that fan frustration is building after the Bucs let starting defensive end Michael Bennett and starting defensive tackle Roy Miller leave as free agents. I get the frustration because the defensive line isn’t as good right now as it was at the end of last season. But you have to assume that general manager Mark Dominik and coach Greg Schiano have a plan to improve that line or else they wouldn’t have let two starters walk.
In an effort to fix a pass defense that was dismal last season, the New Orleans Saints have turned to their own backyard.

They have signed New Orleans native Keenan Lewis, a free-agent cornerback from the Pittsburgh Steelers to a five-year-contract, the team announced Thursday afternoon.

“I’m very excited to be able to come back to my hometown,” Lewis said. “Having grown up here I understand the passion that the fans have for the Saints, and I’m blessed to be able to have the chance to play in front of them here in the future.’’

The Saints are taking a bit of a leap of faith. Lewis, 26, didn’t become a full-time starter in Pittsburgh until last season, and he has only one career interception. But Lewis played well for the Steelers last season and has plenty of upside. Lewis was tested often last season. He was targeted 112 times (second-most in the league, according to Pro Football Focus). But he consistently held up and led the AFC with 23 passes broken up.

That’s something the Saints need as they adjust to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Lewis likely becomes an instant starter opposite Jabari Greer. That’s reflected by Lewis’ contract. It’s worth $26.3 million, and includes $10.5 million in guarantees.

Although there had been some talk that the Saints could be interested in Nnamdi Asomugha, the signing of Lewis probably puts an end to that.

The Saints still have some work to do on their front seven, but adding Lewis should help solidify the secondary.
Michael TurnerKevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMichael Turner averaged 5.4 yards a carry as he finished with 21 carries and a score.
ATLANTA -- Talk all you want about how the Atlanta Falcons should go to the no-huddle offense or how they should throw down the field more often.

There may be some truth to both theories. But when it comes to the real core of the Atlanta offense, there’s one thing you need to keep in mind. Don’t ever forget that the real backbone of this offense is Michael Turner and the running game.

If you want proof, just look at a couple of crucial plays in the fourth quarter of Sunday night’s 35-31 victory against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Georgia Dome.

Although there was a lot of hype about quarterbacks Michael Vick and Matt Ryan going head to head for the first time, they didn’t decide the game. Turner might have been the guy who did that.

With Philadelphia leading 31-28 with 7 minutes, 54 seconds remaining and Atlanta holding the ball at its 13-yard line, Turner broke off a 61-yard run. Five plays later he plunged in for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Falcons the lead for good.

“Matt might like to think we’re a passing team and [receiver] Roddy [White] will definitely tell you we’re a passing team,’’ fullback Ovie Mughelli said. “But Michael and I will tell you we’re a running team, and tonight shows that. Really, they go hand in hand. You’ve got to be able to run and you’ve got to be able to pass. Call us either one, but call us a happy team because we were a winning team tonight.’’

Vick left the game with a concussion in the third quarter and didn’t return. Ryan, whose performance was rocky at times earlier in the game, took control once the Falcons went to the no-huddle offense in the fourth quarter after falling behind 31-21. Ryan finished with a career-best four touchdown passes, but the Falcons wouldn’t have won this game without Turner.

His long run put Philadelphia’s defense, which spent a fortune on free agents in the offseason, on its heels. His touchdown also was the difference on the scoreboard.

Turner carried 21 times for 114 yards. It marked the 21st time since he joined the Falcons in 2008 that Turner has rushed for 100 or more yards.

“That’s one of the top defensive lines in the league,’’ Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “We just kept scratching where we were going and we finally busted one open.’’

The long run came on a trap play and Smith’s right when he says the Falcons worked all night to set it up.

“I was a spectator on the sidelines for that play,’’ Mughelli said. “But the coaches were all saying, 'This could be the one. This could be the one where he breaks it.' We’d been looking at the photos of our plays all game long and you could just see that one was going to break open at some point. We were close on it a whole bunch of times. We’d just miss a block or two here and there. We finally put all those blocks together and Mike was able to break it.’’

Turner’s play came immediately after the Falcons had another of his runs wiped out by a holding penalty on Joe Hawley. The Falcons (1-1) were already in the no-huddle offense, and it would have been easy to grow impatient and just abandon the running game. They could have just put the game in Ryan’s hands, but they didn’t.

That’s partly because Ryan calls the shots when the Falcons run the no-huddle offense and he liked what he saw.

“We got the look we wanted,’’ Ryan said. “That was a huge play in turning the field position and getting us on a roll.’’

It has often been suggested by fans and media that the Falcons should go with the no-huddle offense more often or maybe even all of the time. It also has been suggested that the Falcons should allow Ryan to throw downfield more often, especially now that he’s got rookie receiver Julio Jones to go with White.

But there weren’t a lot of downfield passes to those two against the Eagles, who have cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel. White had three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown. Jones had two catches for 29 yards.

Yeah, things seemed to go a little better once the Falcons went to the no-huddle offense, but offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey isn’t going to be out of a job anytime soon.

“No, no, no, no,’’ Ryan said when asked if he should call the plays from now on. “Mike does a great job for us, and that’s for sure.’’

Ryan finished with only 195 total passing yards while completing 17 of 28 passes. His main target was tight end Tony Gonzalez. At this stage of his career, Gonzalez isn’t really a downfield threat. He caught seven passes for 83 yards and two touchdowns, including a spectacular one-handed grab in the back of the end zone.

There will be times this season when the Falcons aren’t playing two marquee cornerbacks or aren’t playing against a Cover 2 defense like Chicago’s in a season-opening loss. In those situations, the Falcons may finally get to the downfield passing they’ve talked so much about.

There might be some other games where they go with the no-huddle offense earlier if they think it will help with tempo and matchups. This offense is a work in progress and things will go back and forth throughout the season.

But one thing will always hold true. Turner and the running game need to be at the heart of things if this offense is going to thrive.

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio just reported that the Carolina Panthers have not shown any interest in trading for Philadelphia cornerback Asante Samuel, despite reports to the contrary.

Samuel seemingly is on the trading block after the Eagles signed free-agent Nnamdi Asomugha and traded for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. A league source said the Panthers are not interested in taking on Samuel's large contract and the Eagles are looking for at least a third-round draft pick or a starting offensive lineman as compensation.

The Panthers are a bit thin at cornerback after losing Richard Marshall via free agency. Chris Gamble was benched by former coach John Fox last season, but is looking for a fresh start under new coach Ron Rivera.

Captain Munnerlyn has nine starts in his first two seasons and could be the top candidate to start opposite Gamble. But the Panthers still could target a free agent with a cheaper price tag than Samuel's.

Around the NFC South

July, 27, 2011
7/27/11
9:33
AM ET
Time for a quick trip through the morning headlines around the NFC South.

Tampa Bay’s Adrian Clayborn became the first first-round pick to agree to contract terms early this morning. The Bucs are moving fast on signing their draft picks. They already got agreements from Mason Foster and Daniel Hardy on Tuesday.

Steve Reed has some good detail on the full-court press the Panthers used to keep Charles Johnson. In addition to general manager Marty Hurney and coach Ron Rivera, the Panthers sent most of their defensive coaching staff to Miami to convince Johnson to stay.

Scott Fowler writes that there’s still no solid decision on which Carolina quarterback will wear No. 2. Rookie Cam Newton temporarily has been assigned No. 1. Jimmy Clausen wore No. 2 last season and that’s the same number Newton wore in college.

New Orleans free-agent linebacker Scott Shanle has drawn interest from the Rams and Bengals.

With a league-high 28 unrestricted free agents, Jeff Duncan writes that it is inevitable the Saints will lose a few key players.

Atlanta running back Jason Snelling said he would like to return to the Falcons, but said he could draw interest from the Bucs, Bears and Rams.

When asked specifically about potential interest in Nnamdi Asomugha, Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik said he “would temper that’’ and then went on to remind everyone how the Bucs’ current plan is to build its core through the draft, develop players and keep them for the long term.
As we wait for the labor situation to get sorted out, let’s take a look at the highlights from Friday’s NFC South chat.

Dennis (Denver): If the money is equal, do you think DeAngelo Williams stays in Carolina or comes to Denver?

Pat Yasinskas: Everything I know says DeAngelo likes it in Charlotte.

Jon (NewYork): It seems to me everyone is sleeping on the Saints for some reason and I really don’t know why? Our D played outstanding and our offense just got more scary with more RB help. Does it really take one playoff upset for everyone to forget where you were two years ago?

Pat Yasinskas: Yeah, but maybe it's better to fly under the radar and not have the attention and expectations.

John (Raleigh, NC): Pat, isn't Donovan McNabb a perfect fit for the Panthers? He's the same style QB as Cam, will probably only be playing for another 2 years, has been a great mentor for other QB's in the past, and still has the ability to be an effective QB immediately. What do you think the odds are that the Panthers snag him?

Pat Yasinskas: Problem is if you bring in McNabb, he probably starts for a year, maybe two and Cam doesn't even get on the field.

Matt (Charlotte): Pat do you think that the panthers might go after Lance Moore who I think will be a great fit in Carolina?

Pat Yasinskas: If he gets out of New Orleans, I like the fit. But I'm not sure he gets out of New Orleans.

Peder (Sweden): Hey Pat, why is it a slim chance for the Bucs to bring in Nnamdi Asomugha or Johnathan Joseph? We need to get to the cap floor and behind Talib and Barber we're in trouble. Also, Talib might be going to prison. i don't think that it makes any sense to NOT sign one of these players.

Pat Yasinskas: I'd say Nnamdi is a long shot. But I wouldn't say that on Joseph.

John (Jackson, MS): Do you see the Bucs taking a step back this year?

Pat Yasinskas: I know some people say they had a soft schedule last year and might have had some young guys who overachieved. But, no, with the QB they've got, I don't see them taking step back. I think Freeman keeps them moving forward.

Christian (Denver): Why would Richardson even say that Smith is not on the forefront of his mind. The guy has always been known to fly off about the smallest things. Just seems stupid to give him the ammunition.

Pat Yasinskas: Might have been said by design.

Here’s the complete transcript from Friday’s NFC South chat.
Check out this Insider article by KC Joyner on the Atlanta defense.

KC is also known as “the football scientist’’ and he’s great at throwing out all sorts of metrics. Sometimes Joyner’s science shoots down conventional wisdom. In this case, it only helps make a stronger case for what most of us are pretty sure is coming.

Whenever free agency opens, the Falcons are going to go out and sign a top-notch pass-rusher. The names you hear most often are Ray Edwards and Charles Johnson and I think both are possibilities. Joyner also includes Cullen Jenkins, Mathias Kiwanuka and Jason Babin on his list.

His point is simple: It’s not all that important which one of those guys the Falcons get. They just need to improve their pass rush and their defense can become elite. Yeah, it would help if they improve in a few other areas, like tackling by the safeties, but a pass-rusher to go with John Abraham could put this team over the top.

The other thing I really like about Joyner’s article is that it points out the Falcons are just fine at cornerback. Yeah, they need one of their young players to step up as the nickelback, but Joyner’s got numeric proof that Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes are quality starters.

I know there are some fans out there saying the Falcons should sign Nnamdi Asomugha. I don’t get that. Yeah, he’s an outstanding cornerback, but the Falcons spent a ton of money on Robinson last year. At some point, they want to lock up Grimes to a long-term contract. That’s going to be a lot of money invested in one position. If you threw Asomugha into the mix, the Falcons probably would have more money invested in cornerbacks than any team in the league.

Another cornerback isn’t what the Falcons need. What they need is a guy who can rush the quarterback.

NFC South links: No Barber reunion

July, 7, 2011
7/07/11
10:47
AM ET
Atlanta Falcons

AtlantaFalcons.com is running a tournament-style bracket to let fans decide who their favorite Falcons legacy player is. Today's matchup: No. 7 Tommy Nobis vs. No. 10 Warrick Dunn.

Tony Gonzalez makes an appearance in Funny or Die's "Field of Dream 2" spoof of the NFL lockout.

Carolina Panthers

Wofford College and Spartanburg businesses have a lot riding on the outcome of pending NFL labor talks. Wofford has been the summer home of the Panthers for the past 16 years, but the lockout threatens to cancel training camp. Not hosting the Panthers would mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars for local businesses.

New Orleans Saints

A group of retired players has filed a complaint against the NFL, the named plaintiffs in the Tom Brady antitrust action and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. The retired players’ complaint takes particular aim at Drew Brees, one of the Brady plaintiffs, claiming Brees "voiced his antipathy for NFL retirees."

The Saints' homecoming against the Falcons in the rebuilt Superdome a year after Hurricane Katrina was a significant moment in the city's recovery, according to an NC State University study.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

A new CBA with a higher cap floor could lead a team like the Bucs, which has a low payroll, to spend big on free agents such as Nnamdi Asomugha, according to NFL.com's Jason La Canfora.

The Bucs reportedly have no interest in signing Ronde Barber's brother, Tiki, when free agency begins.

The team has promoted former college scouting director Dennis Hickey to director of player personnel.
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.
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If you’re worried about the Final Eight Plan limiting what the Atlanta Falcons can do in free agency, stop it.

The plan was a one-time thing, instituted in 2010’s uncapped year. It impacted the New Orleans Saints, who won the Super Bowl the season before. As part of the rule, teams were allowed to sign only the number of unrestricted free agents that they lost to other teams and there were some salary guidelines that further restricted teams that at least made it to the divisional round of the playoffs after the 2009 season. The Falcons lost in the divisional round last season.

But all indications from both sides are that the plan won’t be used in any new collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players. That’s good news for the Falcons because they’re unlikely to lose any big-name free agents. They’re expected to bring back veteran linebacker Mike Peterson, but are likely to let veteran receiver Brian Finneran and cornerback Brian Williams sign elsewhere.

Offensive linemen Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo have five accrued seasons and are not under contract for this year. But their status will be determined by a new deal and we don’t know if that will require four or five seasons for players to reach unrestricted free agency.

Without the limitations of the final eight plan, the Falcons will be free to pursue as many free agents as they want. The team already has shown a “win-now’’ mentality by trading up to draft receiver Julio Jones. I expect that trend to continue once free agency starts and the Falcons are likely to make adding a pass-rushing defensive end their top priority.

There also have been suggestions the Falcons could pursue Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and a tight end to pair with veteran Tony Gonzalez. I’m not sure the Falcons would invest huge money in Asomugha, one year after breaking the bank for Dunta Robinson. But owner Arthur Blank, coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff, so far, have made it clear they think this team is on the cusp of a Super Bowl, so anything is possible.

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