NFC South: Phil Savage
That means we’ll have to skip the NFC South chat this week, but we’ll pick it up next week. Our usual Final Word post will be popping up a bit later and it will be very heavy on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers since they’re the only two teams playing Sunday.
I’ll check in later Friday if there is anything of consequence. But in the meantime, let’s run through a few headlines.
Former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage says he’s not interested in Carolina’s general manager job. We’ll take his word for it, but I know a number of former general managers and executives that are very interested in this job. But it remains to be seen if the Panthers have any interest in them.
I did a double take when I read this story. The Panthers are letting fans vote on Facebook to decide if the team should call heads or tails before Sunday’s kickoff in Kansas City. What’s next, letting fans call the first play via Twitter? Hey, the way this season has gone, that might not be a bad idea.
Jeff Duncan writes that Drew Brees is responsible for the New Orleans Saints' loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night. I’d make a case that the New Orleans defense also contributed heavily by spotting the Falcons an early lead. But Brees did throw a whopping five interceptions and the Saints know going into any game that they’re going to have to score more than 13 points to have any shot at winning.
Mark Bradley writes that the Falcons failed to deliver the dominant type of game that has critics suggesting they’re not as good as their record indicates. Bradley also writes that Atlanta is winning close games because the Falcons play as a team, with one unit picking up when another struggles. Yeah, the Falcons didn’t blow the Saints out of the Georgia Dome, but I think this win was different than all the other close ones. This came against a rival that seemed to have Atlanta’ psychological number in recent years. We might look back at this after the season as the breakthrough game for the Falcons.
Former Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden will take part in a Dec. 9 celebration to honor the team that won Super Bowl XXXVII. There had been some question about whether Gruden would attend because his relationship with ownership was strained after he was fired following the 2008 season. But Gruden needs to be a part of that celebration. He was the coach of that championship team and forever will be part of the Bucs’ history.
- The New England Patriots gave tight end Rob Gronkowski a six-year, $53 million contract. That’s the biggest contract ever for a tight end and it pretty much sets the bar for New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham. As far as we know, Graham hasn’t asked for a new contract and it wouldn’t be wise to do that until after the Saints have taken care of quarterback Drew Brees. But Graham is on par with Gronkowski and he’s scheduled to make only the minimum salary for a third-year player. Graham clearly has outplayed his contract and, sooner or later, the Saints will have to find a way to keep him happy.
- Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams left the Saints immediately after last season and went on to be portrayed as the leader of the bounty program. But Jeff Duncan writes that Williams still has plenty of fans in the Saints locker room. Duncan has a column in which several defensive players sing Williams’ praises.
- Carolina receiver Steve Smith and running back DeAngelo Williams helped provide new shoes for 500 children in the Memphis area.
- Former NFL general manager and current Senior Bowl director Phil Savage has his review of the 2012 draft and he lists Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin as the best value pick. Savage says Martin should make an immediate impact for the Buccaneers.
- The Panthers will do something a little different at their minicamp next week. They’re holding their Thursday session inside Bank of America Stadium and opening the practice to their fans. I think that’s a wise move for any team. I was at three minicamp practices by the New Orleans Saints earlier this week that were open to the public. It was brutally hot and humid, but the fans still were out in force.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
One of the more interesting behind-the-scenes stories of this season in Atlanta is that of Falcons president Rich McKay.
Stripped of his general manager duties after last season, McKay has played the good soldier as he's taken over most of the team's business operations. By all indications, McKay still has a lot more power in the organization than a lot of people realize and has worked very peacefully with new general manager Thomas Dimitroff. McKay has continued to manage the salary cap and oversee contract negotiations.
But a lot of people around the league have been wondering how long McKay could stay happy in that role. Now, it looks like McKay may get a chance to jump fully back into the football side of things -- elsewhere.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Falcons owner Arthur Blank has granted McKay permission to interview with the Cleveland Browns, who fired Phil Savage. Although McKay has had his share of ups and downs as a general manager in Atlanta and Tampa Bay, he does have a reputation as a builder and is very well respected around the league.
Even if nothing comes of the Cleveland interview, don't be surprised if McKay's name comes up in connection with some other jobs around the league, including some that haven't opened yet.