NFC South: Phillip Buchanon
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.
|Getty Images/AP Photo|
|Aqib Talib, Jabari Greer and Richard Marshall are part of the changing of the guard at the cornerback position in the NFC South.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
In an otherwise-quiet offseason, the NFC South has turned the corners.
If there's one common theme in the division, it's that there will be lots of change and plenty of youth at cornerback. For better or worse, each team is going to have at least one new starter at cornerback and many familiar faces are gone.
Yes, Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber and New Orleans' Mike McKenzie are still around, but that may be more for show and sentiment than anything. The days of big-name cornerbacks in this division are over -- at least until some of these new guys make names for themselves and they're going to get every chance.
Somebody has to step up and guard the likes of Steve Smith, Roddy White, Marques Colston and Antonio Bryant. That may seem like a big task for a bunch of young and unproven cornerbacks, but that's what it's going to come down to.
Every team in the division suddenly needs major production from young or new cornerbacks.
|Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images|
|The Saints get a healthy Tracy Porter back after injury cut short his promising rookie campaign.|
Start with the Saints because they could have the most change of all. The entire secondary has been a mess the last couple of years, but the problems have been particularly bad at cornerback. McKenzie's gone down with major injuries in each of the last two seasons and the Saints have been forced to go with the likes of the undersized Jason David and the antiquated Aaron Glenn playing big roles.
It hasn't really mattered how many yards Drew Brees has thrown for the last two seasons because the New Orleans defense has given up just as many. But the plan is for that to stop. Although McKenzie, David and Randall Gay remain on the roster, there's a chance the Saints could end up with Greer and Porter as their starters.
New defensive coordinator Gregg Williams wants to bring an aggressive approach and Greer has been the highlight of New Orleans' free-agency class. He was signed away from Buffalo, where he was a starter the last two years. The four-year, $23 million deal the Saints gave Greer likely means they're counting on him being the No. 1 cornerback.
But don't rule out the possibility of Porter being just as good before all is said and done. A second-round pick last year, Porter got off to a strong start as a rookie. He showed all the physical skills and tremendous confidence before going down with an injury just before midseason.
Tampa Bay also could have two new starters as new coach Raheem Morris takes over. You can pretty much assume that Aqib Talib, last year's first-round pick, will move into a starting role. Starter Phillip Buchanon departed through free agency and Talib showed promise as the nickelback last year. He may have to become Tampa Bay's No. 1 cornerback because nobody knows what the future holds for Barber, who is nearing the end of his career.
The Bucs pursued Greer and several other free-agent cornerbacks. They likely aren't done making moves at this position and that could be a sign that they're considering moving Barber to the nickel role.
Only a year ago, a lot of people thought Carolina had the best trio of cornerbacks in the NFL. But that trio is now just a duo. Chris Gamble remains as probably the division's best cornerback, but he's going to have a new starter beside him.
The Panthers whacked veteran Ken Lucas in a salary-cap move this week. Lucas' play declined late last season. There are a lot of people who believe Richard Marshall, the nickelback the last couple of years, is ready to step in and provide an upgrade over Lucas.
That may turn out to be true, but Marshall's elevation raises another question that doesn't have an obvious answer: Who's going to be the nickelback? All the Panthers have at the moment is C.J. Wilson, who barely has played and veteran Dante Wesley, who may not be much more than a special-teams player. That means there's a good chance the Panthers, who have almost no salary-cap room, will have to draft a cornerback.
|AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin|
|Chevis Jackson, a third-round pick in 2008, should have a larger role in 2009.|
That's a route the Falcons may also follow because they have the division's least-defined cornerback situation at the moment. This team unloaded the talented, but troubled DeAngelo Hall before last season and made it to the playoffs with smoke, mirrors
and luck at cornerback last season. But some of that luck already is gone.
Domonique Foxworth, who emerged as a pleasant surprise last season, went to Baltimore after getting a massive deal in free agency. But the Falcons don't seem too worried. They could have made a stronger attempt to keep Foxworth, but didn't.
That makes you wonder whether coach Mike Smith has a higher opinion of his cornerbacks than the rest of us do. Chris Houston returns as a starter, but he hasn't yet shown he can be a true No. 1 cornerback. Smith must be thinking Houston can grow into that role because there aren't any other options on the roster.
In fact, it's far from clear who the other starter will be. Von Hutchins will be back after missing last season with an injury and Brent Grimes, who was a part-time starter last year, also remains a possibility.
But keep an eye on Jackson, a third-round pick last year, who started to show some big-play capability at the end of last season. The Falcons may be looking for Jackson to start or, at very least, be the nickelback.
If Jackson can do that, he'll fill a big void. He'll also be one of the faces of change at cornerback in the NFC South.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Bucs, who had Greer in for a visit and presumably had serious interest in signing, also lost incumbent starter Phillip Buchanon. He's signed a two-year $8.5 million deal with the Detroit Lions. The Bucs wanted to re-sign Buchanon.
Kind of interesting that Buchanon, who played under head coach Raheem Morris when he was the defensive backs coach, opted to sign with a team that was winless.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time for a quick roundup of some of the notes we didn't have a chance to get to earlier today:
Veteran cornerback Shawn Springs reportedly will pay a visit to the Saints. After losing out on Ron Bartell, who re-signed with the Rams on Monday, Springs could make a lot of sense. He spent some time in Washington with New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
The Falcons have been conspicuously quiet in free agency so far. But they do have a visit set up with defensive end Mike Montgomery. He's not the kind of guy that's going to come in and post double-digit sacks, but he could provide some needed depth.
Although the Bucs still have some interest in re-signing him, cornerback Phillip Buchanon has scheduled a visit with the Detroit Lions. The Bucs are covering their bases and are looking at Buffalo's Jabari Greer.
Things remain very quiet on the Carolina front, but at least the Panthers are planning on hitting some college workouts soon.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Our third stop on the tour of NFC South team-by-team mailbags is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
JAD in Woodbridge writes: Hey Pat, do you think it is possible for the Buccaneers to sign T.J, Haynesworth, and Ward from the Giants, and have enough money to sign our own FA?
Pat Yasinskas: While I'm cautioning fans of the other three NFC South teams not to get too carried-away with their free-agency expectations, I'm not doing that with the Buccaneers. They've got a lot of cap space to work with and coach Raheem Morris has pretty much admitted the Bucs are going to pursue Albert Haynesworth. Makes sense because they need help in the middle of their defensive line and he's the best defensive tackle available. That doesn't mean for certain the Bucs will get Haynesworth, but I expect them to make a serious run at him. Keep one other thing in mind when you're talking about the Bucs and free agency: Florida has no state income tax and that's important to players (and their agents) when you're talking about multi-million-dollar deals.
J.J. in Denver, CO writes: Pat, As a Buccaneers fan I would love to get Albert Haynesworth in FA but what are the possibilities of obtaining WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh if we cant land Haynesworth? Or any situation that would land them both in Tampa? Thanks for the work you do with the NFC South Blog.
Pat Yasinskas: Even if the Bucs do get Albert Haynesworth, and re-sign their own free agents (Jermaine Phillips, Kevin Carter and Phillip Buchanon), they still could make a run at T.J. Houshmandzadeh. They've got enough cap room to do all that -- and even make several more moves. Picture Houshmandzadeh and Antonio Bryant together. You might see the Bucs throw the ball downfield more than they have in a long time.
Jeff in denver writes: I'm worried with Antonio Bryant not wanting to sign his franchise offer. He's really all we have on the team man thats really worth a damm. do you think they front office will give him a long term contract or what?
Pat Yasinskas: Relax a bit on Bryant. Yes, his agent is saying he's not happy with the franchise tag. But that's what agents are supposed to do and it's part of the game. The Bucs can keep trying to sign Bryant to a long-term contract up until July 15 and I suspect there will be a lot more talk about trying to lock him up.
Brian in Oklahoma writes: With free-agency looming around the corner, which free agent would you most likely see the Bucs making the a run for? And by the way like the blog very informative.
Pat Yasinskas: Well, we've mentioned Haynesworth and Houshmandzadeh already, so I'll give you another name I've hard some rumblings about. That's New York Giants running back Derrick Ward. I've heard the Bucs may pursue him and I think that would make a lot of sense. They clearly need another running back. They've got Earnest Graham and that's a good start. But Warrick Dunn's not getting any younger and nobody knows if Cadillac Williams will play again or be anywhere close to what he was before his two major knee injuries.
Chris in Arizona writes: Pat, first off, love your blog. Second, I know I'm just thinking way too far into the future here, but If Coach Jags wants to use Tight Ends more in the offense, and I know this is way too early to even bring this up but I'm doing it anyway. What are the chances the Bucs draft a guy like Rob Gronkowski out of Arizona, who many people think will be the best TE in the NCAA next season, in the 2010 draft? hey I'm a Bucs fan at the U of A, so I'm just getting over hyped aren't I?
Pat Yasinskas: Nothing wrong with looking into the future. But let's wait a year and see where the Bucs are at before we go making predictions on the 2010 draft. They might find an answer this year.
Daryl in Springfield, NJ: Hi Pat, As always, love the NFC South blog. I just was looking over Jagodzinski's comments, and I was wondering about his plans to use a zone blocking scheme. I've never been a fan of zone blocking and the Bucs built their line around maulers recently rather than the smaller quicker linemen you seen in zone blocking teams. How will this affect the Tampa o-line? Will there be a need for an overhaul just when it seems like the line it turning into a major bright spot for the team?
Pat Yasinskas: Good question. The one thing Jeff Jagodzinski and defensive coordinator Jim Bates said in their introductory meetings with the media is that they both have some things they like to do, but they won't put their players in spots where they're not playing to their strength. Tampa Bay's offensive line is a strength. Say what you want about former coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen, but they've invested a lot in the offensive line in free agency and the draft the last few years and it's the unquestioned strong point of this offense. Jagodzinski may insert some zone-blocking principles, but I don't think you'll see him go with the pure zone-blocking schemes we've seen in Atlanta and Denver in the past. It would make no sense to blow up a strong point and start all over.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Time for a quick trip through the NFC South local headlines.
- Looks like the Bucs are focusing on re-signing cornerback Phillip Buchanon before he can be a free agent. They also want to do the same with safety Jermaine Phillips.
Although the Falcons have declared they won't be pursuing free-agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, look for them to get another defensive tackle in the draft or as a less-expensive free agent. But don't forget about Trey Lewis. The Falcons quietly are anxious to see what he can do.
Tom Sorensen says Julius Peppers is not a villain, and he's right. Just try telling that to Panthers fans. There's more to this story than we all know. It just would be nice if Peppers, or his agent, would come out and say precisely why Peppers wants out of Carolina so badly. That might clear up a lot of misconceptions.
Gibril Wilson, who was released by the Raiders on Friday, could be at the top of the Saints' list as they look to upgrade at free safety.
The final stop on our team-by-team mailbag tour is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
MW in NY writes: Will the Bucs attempt to acquire Fred Taylor?
Pat Yasinskas: Wow, didn't take long after Taylor's release from Jacksonville to get Tampa Bay fans started on this path. Logical question (shared by many of you) based on Tampa Bay's way of doing things in recent years. The Bucs of Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen never were afraid to bring in a big-name veteran near the end of his career (perhaps the only one they didn't get was Brett Favre, and they tried like heck). But I'm sensing new general manager Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris are going to take a different approach in this area. Part of the reason Allen and Gruden got fired was because they were always looking to patch things together quickly and it never really looked like they had a long-term plan. Yes, Dominik did work for Allen and he'll take the good parts from him (mainly salary-cap management). But Dominik also worked with Rich McKay, Tim Ruskell and Jerry Angelo at the start of his career and he probably picked up some ideas from them as well. I think Dominik and Morris are going to be very deliberate in their moves and try to build this team with a younger core that can stay in place for a while. There might be some veterans, including some high-profile free agents, brought in. But I think the days of signing guys at the end of their careers are over. Taylor was a great player, but is he much different than Warrick Dunn right now? I'm not even sure the Bucs will be keeping Dunn.
Jim Wright in Tampa writes: Should Bucs go after a QB in the 1st round of the draft; perhaps Josh Freeman of KSU; most likely Stafford and Sanchez will be gone by the time the Bucs draft in the 19th spot. Or would they do better to take a WR or DT or DE. Hopefully, McCown will do well but we may still a a QB for the future.
Pat Yasinskas: I think it's a little risky to think you can get a franchise quarterback with the 19th pick. The Bucs have high hopes for Luke McCown and that's why they re-signed him. But I still think it's entirely possible Tampa Bay could add a quarterback in the draft or as a free agent. But I think a team picking in the middle or late first round can get more value by drafting another position. I agree the Bucs could use help at wide receiver, defensive tackle or defensive end and a new coach and general manager might get more rapid results by drafting one of those positions. I think the Bucs will add another quarterback to the mix, but I don't think it will come in the first round of the draft. Maybe later in the draft or maybe in free agency.
Brian in parts unkown writes: Just wanted to know with all of the players that the Bucs have becoming free agents, which of those would you expect the to retain?
Pat Yasinskas: Just looking at the list of Tampa Bay's potential free agents, I'd say receiver Antonio Bryant, cornerback Phillip Buchanon and safety Jermaine Phillips are the top three priorities. I also think there's a chance receiver Michael Clayton could stay because his problems were with Gruden and not the new regime. We already know the Bucs aren't bringing back quarterback Jeff Garcia. I think defensive end Kevin Carter, defensive tackle Jovan Haye and tight end Jerramy Stevens also will be allowed to test free agency.
Jordan in Orlando writes: Has the bucs released any info about resigning WR Bryant?
Pat Yasinskas: The Bucs aren't going to release any information on Bryant unless they have him signed. They're in the negotiating process and I'm sure the Bucs want to keep Bryant. He also has a desire to stay in Tampa Bay after resurrecting his career there last year. Morris was on Gruden's staff and got a first-hand look at how Bryant turned his life around. In a lot of ways, that's an advantage because Bryant wouldn't have to prove himself to another head coach. But we're at the point in time where it comes down to business and money. I think the Bucs are working hard to keep Bryant and my guess is you'll see him re-sign with Tampa Bay. Also, I think even if Bryant re-signs, the Bucs could be a big player for another wide receiver in free agency.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The New Orleans Saints are next in our team-by-team mailbags.
Tom in SC writes: In your mailbags and columns you have repeatedly mentioned that the Saints, since they are very limited by the salary cap this off season, will go after some mid level or reasonably priced free agents rather than the big name guys. Can you actually give some specific examples of these reasonably-priced, lesser players that you speak of that the Saints would target, rather than just generalizing the group of "mid level" free agents?
Pat Yasinskas: Tom, that's a good point. Let me explain why I do generalize on this issue. We're still almost two weeks away from the start of free agency and that means things can change dramatically between now and then. You can look at the free-agent lists today and they're going to be very different on Feb. 27 because some teams are going to re-sign their own guys and teams are going to cut players to create salary-cap room. Also, the mid-level hasn't really been determined yet because we don't know what's going to happen with the top guys. For instance, if Julius Peppers and Albert Haynesworth get franchised and don't become free agents, suddenly the guys who we're all thinking are mid-level could become high level. We have rules about speculating, even in blogs, and I try to keep it as responsible as possible and not go wild with speculation until we actually get close to free agency. With that in mind, I'll push the rules just a bit to at least whet the appetite of you and others who are thinking ahead to free agency. I don't think it's any big secret New Orleans' biggest needs are in the secondary. A couple of guys in the division fit the profile. That's Tampa Bay safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Phillip Buchanon. Again, I think there's a decent chance the Bucs re-sign those guys, so this all could be moot. If you want another name, how about cornerback Leigh Bodden? He's already a free agent because he was released by Detroit.
Alex in Texarkana writes: With the Saints having so few draft pick choices available, and salary cap still the big issue of the free agency, is it possible for the team to solve both issues by trading players, like Deuce, for mid to late round picks?
Pat Yasinskas: Don't get your hopes too high on that one. It's not likely Deuce McAllister is going to have much value in the trade market. It's pretty obvious to the rest of the league that he's not in the Saints' plans and a lot of people around the league expect him to be released. That may be the most-likely scenario. I wouldn't totally rule out the Saints trading Deuce for something. But I think the best you can hope for might be a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
Mike in Conroe, Texas writes: Hey Pat, love reading your stuff first off. What are the chances of the Saints landing either Atogwe from the Rams or Leonhard from the Ravens at FS? I know it's a long shot as far as money goes, but someone has to be somewhat interested in trying to come and help the defense (especially with Williams as D-Coordinator) because of the opportunity our strong offense creates for them.
Pat Yasinskas: Again, this is why I don't like to get two specific about potential free agents this far out from the start of free agency. I like Oshiomogho Atogwe and think he could be a very nice fit in New Orleans. But the reports out of St. Louis are that the Rams still are trying to re-sign Atogwe and there's some thinking they might use the franchise tag on him. So he could be a moot point. Also, if Atogwe does make it to the open market, he's probably at the upper end of what the Saints want to spend on a free agent, so it might be difficult to get him.
Rob in Washington DC writes: Any idea who the Saints are planning to put the franchise tag on? And, based on the possible difficulties of resigning Vilma, why not just use it on him?
Pat Yasinskas: The good news is I doubt the Saints will use the franchise tag on anyone. Aside from Jonathan Vilma, none of their potential free agents are the type of player that would merit a franchise tag. As far as Vilma, he wants to return to the Saints and they want him back. I suspect you'll see him re-sign with the Saints very soon after the start of free agency.
Tim in Bastrop, La writes: Hey Pat I see all of the guys asking about the defense defense defense. Quiet frankley I'm tired of hearing it. Because the way I see it is yes, we have the number 1 offense in scoring and just about every catagorey as far as that is concerned, but the one we need number 1 in the most is rushing. I want to know what are the chances the saints would possibly go after a "BEANIE WELLS" in the draft. I mean i like Pierre and Bush but the truth is you just can't trust neither one of them when it is 3rd and 3 or less. And i feel like if we were to get a back like that. It would help to keep the defense off the field. Which keeps the defense rested to play better. If you were to look back at all the games this season. Our defense was on the field was on the field way too much. And when that happens 75% of the time any defense is going to get burned. Because they stay wore down, and that will create lack of pressure on the qb. Not giving our line any credit this year B/c they never got pressure.
Pat Yasinskas: That's an interesting perspective and you make a very good argument that getting a running back might help the defense more than anything. I don't argue with that a bit. It's obvious ball control was an issue for the Saints last year. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of the Saints going for a running back early in the draft, but that would mean Sean Payton would have to make a stronger commitment to the running game and it might impact how the team uses Reggie Bush. Also, keep in mind, the Saints have only four draft picks at the moment and they do have to find some new bodies for the defense. But I would like to see them get a power runner at some point in free agency or in the draft.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
We'll work in alphabetical order with our team-by-team mailbags. That means we'll start with the Atlanta Falcons.
Jimmy in Dalton, GA writes: Pat, this is why the Falcons do have leverage. Why does no one consider this scenario except me. If Vick refuses to rework his contract and is reinstated, the Falcons could wait until the day before the season starts or until the 53 man cut down to release Vick. This way his salary isn't guaranteed, only his bonuses that will count against the team anyways. If a team traded for the rights to Vick they could have a playbook in his hands ASAP at prison or the halfway house with tons of time on his hands. Why would a team want to wait until the regular season to sign him when he would be so much more valuable with preseason and training camp if the commisioner is willing to reinstate him. Hopefully the commisioner would keep him out of camp or delay his reinstatement similar to what he did before his conviction and with the way he handled Favre last year by not reinstating him from retirement until something was worked out. No one wants the media circus to be even greater than what it will be. I don't think it would play out like this because I believe he will be traded before the draft but at least the Falcons would have some leverage to work out a trade this way. Hopefully it will force Vick to restructure his deal so that his value doesn't drop and he can make the salary he's promised the bankruptcy judges that he'd make.
Pat Yasinskas: Love your enthusiasm, but I think you're looking at this from an absolute best-case scenario that I can't see playing out this way. Sure, that would be nice for the Falcons, but I don't think they'd carry Michael Vick on the roster until just before the season starts because that would create the kind of media circus you mentioned. Also, Vick's base salary wouldn't be guaranteed, but it (along with his pro-rated bonuses) would count against Atlanta's salary cap once he is on the roster again and that wouldn't change until he's off the roster. I don't think the Falcons really would be looking to clear up major cap room as they start a season. I think the Falcons want to wash their hands of Vick as quickly as possible. Yes, they'd love to trade the rights to Vick before the draft and have this all out of their hair. But I don't know that teams are going to line up to trade for Vick. The Falcons may simply have to release him and I think they're well aware that's a good possibility. Also, there are no guarantees on Vick being reinstated in time for this season.
Shane in Wisconsin writes: With the falcons looking to trade the right to Michael Vick, do you think the Vikings should give this serious thought? Micheal Vick and Adrian in the same back field is very intriguing.
Pat Yasinskas: I'm definitely of the belief that Vick can help a team, assuming he gets reinstated. This guy was a decent NFL quarterback before and he certainly has plenty of talent. I'll leave it up to our NFC North friend, Kevin Seifert, to discuss Minnesota's scenarios in more detail. But I will say that if I were the Vikings and the options were Vick and Tarvaris Jackson, I'd go with Vick.
Stan in Atlanta writes: Hey Pat, you do a great job with the blog, wanted to thank you for keeping us abreast of all the happenings in the NFC South. We all know the Falcons have massive needs on the defensive end. I completely agree with you that Dimitroff and the Front Office will be focused on building through the draft and that we shouldn't expect any big FA signings or really any "sexy" draft picks. My question is, and it might be a bit early to ask, but what players do you think might provide value 1) outside of the first round of the draft and 2) at the mid-level of free agency? In other words, who can we hope to see suited up and playing for the Birds that will make other teams go "how did we miss him?" Thanks a bunch for the great columns.
Pat Yasinskas: I'm going to hold off just a bit on the draft question (until we at least get through the scouting combine and see how players are sorting out). As for mid-level free agents, I'm always hesitant to name too many names at this point. We're still almost two weeks away from the start of free agency and the list of free agents is going to change repeatedly as teams re-sign their own guys and teams cut players to create salary-cap room. However, since you asked, I'll throw out a few names that I think could fit the profile for the Falcons. Start with a couple of Tampa Bay defensive backs. Safety Jermaine Phillips and cornerback Phillip Buchanon are scheduled to become free agents (although I think the Bucs will make an effort to keep both). I think those guys, or players with similar talent, could fit nicely in Atlanta's secondary. I also think the Falcons need to look at defensive ends and the guy I like is Arizona's Antonio Smith, who is scheduled to be a free agent, although, again, I think the Cardinals will make an attempt to keep him. I was impressed with Smith in the playoff game between Arizona and Atlanta. He's still a young guy with upside and I don't think his price tag will be too high -- if he makes it to free agency.
Matt from Lawrenceville writes: Hey Pat. I'm a big Falcons fan, and I agree with you about our defense. What players do you think we should go after in free agency to strengthen our linebacker and cornerback positions? Also, who do you think would be the Falcons' best bet with their first round draft pick? I've read a lot of draft predictions and I've heard BJ Raji, Brandon Pettigrew, and a lot of other names thrown out there, and I'm not sure who the best choice would be. Who's their best option? Thanks Pat.
Pat Yasinskas: I touched on free agency in the previous question and I'll throw in cornerback Leigh Bodden, who already is a free agent because he was released. I think Bodden is a guy who still has upside and I think that's what Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith are looking for. As far as the draft, we're still a long ways off. And the scouting combine is going to cause some guys to rise and fall. I like what I've heard about Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji. He's the kind of big, run-stuffing tackle who could take over for the aging Grady Jackson. Only problem, right now, is I don't know that Raji will last long enough for the Falcons to have a chance. Again, that could change in the next few months, but I think defensive tackle will be a big priority. If you could pair someone like Raji with Jonathan Babineaux, you'd be very solid in the middle of the defensive line. As far as Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew, that's a nice idea, but I don't see it happening. I do think the Falcons will look for a tight end who can catch some passes, but I think that will come later in the draft or in free
agency. As much as everyone would like Matt Ryan to have another toy, I don't think the Falcons will go crazy to get a big-name tight end. The position never is going to be used in Mike Mularkey's offense as a spot that gets a tremendous amount of passes. I think the Falcons will be looking more for a tight end who can give them 30 or so catches in a season and you don't use a first-round draft pick or a lot of free-agent money to get that.
Another quiet day in the NFC South so far, but that could always change this afternoon as teams get ready for the start of free agency. Speaking of that, I've been getting a lot of people asking for lists of free agents.
I did team-by-team breakdowns back in January but decided to run the lists for all four NFC South teams here just to refresh everybody. Keep in mind, these are the guys who are prospective free agents at the end of the month and things could always change with teams re-signing their own players or using the franchise tag.
Unrestricted free agents: Linebacker Michael Boley, defensive end Chauncey Davis, cornerback Domonique Foxworth, tackle Wayne Gandy, linebacker Tony Gilbert, defensive tackle Grady Jackson, defensive tackle Jason Jefferson, punter Michael Koenen, safety Lawyer Milloy, tight end Justin Peelle and linebacker Coy Wire.
Unrestricted free agents: Linebacker Donte' Curry, tackle Jordan Gross, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, return man Mark Jones, long-snapper Jason Kyle, tackle Frank Omiyale, defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Adam Seward and defensive tackle Darwin Walker.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Unrestricted free agents: Cornerback Aaron Glenn, quarterback Joey Harrington, receiver Devery Henderson, defensive tackle Antwan Lake, guard Matt Lehr, running back Aaron Stecker, tackle Jon Stinchcomb and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Unrestricted free agents: Wide receiver Antonio Bryant, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, defensive end Kevin Carter, receiver Michael Clayton, quarterback Jeff Garcia, receiver Cortez Hankton, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, safety Jermaine Phillips, defensive tackle Ryan Sims and tight end Jerramy Stevens.
Restricted free agent: Tackle Donald Penn.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Our final stop in our look at each NFC South team's potential free agents is Tampa Bay.
Unrestricted free agents: Wide receiver Antonio Bryant, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, defensive end Kevin Carter, receiver Michael Clayton, quarterback Jeff Garcia, receiver Cortez Hankton, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, quarterback Luke McCown, safety Jermaine Phillips, defensive tackle Ryan Sims and tight end Jerramy Stevens.
Restricted free agent: Tackle Donald Penn.
Overview: It's a good thing that the Bucs have $40.4 million in salary-cap room right now because they're going to need a good chunk of that to re-sign some players they want to keep. We still don't know what type of offense the Bucs want to run, but that doesn't matter when it comes to keeping Bryant. He'd fit in any scheme and he showed last season he can be a No. 1 receiver.
Bryant wants to stay with the Bucs because new coach Raheem Morris already knows how Bryant turned his life around and he doesn't want to go somewhere where he's starting from scratch. Clayton also could be brought back now that Jon Gruden isn't the coach. Clayton and Gruden didn't get along. Clayton has some solid skills and likes living in the Tampa Bay area. He could thrive with a new offensive coaching staff.
Again, much will depend on what type of offense the Bucs are going to run, but it seems unlikely they'll keep Garcia. It's time for the Bucs to get younger at quarterback.
Defensively, Buchanon, Carter, Haye and Phillips all were starters last season. Look for the Bucs to make a strong run to keep Buchanon, Haye and Phillips. Carter was productive last season, but he's 34. If he's willing to play at a reasonable salary, the Bucs might keep him, but Carter's not a priority.
It will be interesting to see what the new regime does with Stevens. He's had a history of off-field problems, but Gruden never met a player he wouldn't sign. Morris and new general manager Mark Dominik may put more emphasis on character. If they do, they probably won't bend any rules to keep a marginal tight end.
The Bucs also may try to lock up Penn, who has become a solid left tackle, with a long-term contract.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
TAMPA, Fla. -- The defense just won another game for the Buccaneers, but now the leader may be gone.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin will join his son, Lane, who is taking over as the University of Tennessee's head coach, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Kiffin's been with the Bucs since 1996 and is the architect of the Tampa 2 defense.
Kiffin and the Bucs haven't commented on the situation yet. I'll be heading down to the locker room and we'll see if Kiffin or Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden will confirm anything.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Bucs will be without special teams player Torrie Cox this season.
Coach Jon Gruden said this morning Cox will be placed on the injured-reserve list with a knee injury. Cox wasn't a real strong candidate to be a big factor at cornerback, but he previously had been able to stick around because of his contributions on special teams.
Veteran Ronde Barber is set at one cornerback position. Rookie Aqib Talib is competing with Sammy Davis, Phillip Buchanon, Marcus Hamilton, Darrell Hunter and Elbert Mack for the other cornerback spots. The loss of Cox could open a roster spot for a young player like Hamilton, Hunter or Mack, if one of them can stand out on special teams.