NFC South: Turk McBride

NFC South afternoon update

March, 20, 2013
3/20/13
4:02
PM ET
The NFL owners meeting has ended, so let's take a run through the headlines from around the division:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano predicted a “great’’ season by quarterback Josh Freeman in 2013. Schiano said Freeman had three bad games in 2012 and the key is to avoid the same mistakes in the future. As I’ve said before, I think the ability is there for Freeman to be a really good quarterback. I just think he needs to relax a bit and not put so much pressure on himself.

Cornerback E.J. Biggers has left for the Washington Redskins via free agency. The Bucs had some interest in keeping Biggers, but only as a third or fourth corner. They’ll address the cornerback position (probably more than once) in free agency, trade or the draft.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Former New Orleans defensive end Turk McBride has signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears. No big shock there. McBride was a nice role player when the Saints ran the 4-3 defense, but he wouldn’t have been a good fit in the 3-4.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Coach Ron Rivera had glowing things to say about Ted Ginn Jr., who visited the team and has been offered a contract. If the Panthers end up with the wide receiver/kick returner, it probably doesn’t bode well for the futures of Kealoha Pilares, Joe Adams and Armanti Edwards.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Jeff Schultz writes that the Falcons might be better off signing a veteran cornerback and getting a pass-rusher in the draft. I agree. You’re not going to get a great cornerback at No. 30, but you might get a decent pass-rusher. There still are a few free-agent cornerbacks on the market. But the best one might be Brent Grimes, who has spent his career in Atlanta. The Falcons have interest in Grimes and I think there’s a decent chance he ends up re-signing with the team because it doesn’t seem like anyone else is throwing huge money at him.

Reviewing NFC South free agents

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
10:42
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We’ve shown you the lists of potential NFC South free agents before. But let’s do it again because there have been some minor moves and the free-agency period is getting ready to start Tuesday.

Here’s the list of potential free agents for all four NFC South teams:

Atlanta Falcons. Tony Gonzalez, Brent Grimes, Sam Baker, William Moore, Will Svitek, Mike Cox, Todd McClure, Luke McCown, Christopher Owens, Mike Peterson, Garrett Reynolds, Lawrence Sidbury and Vance Walker all can become unrestricted free agents. Michael Palmer can become a restricted free agent.

Carolina Panthers. The potential unrestricted free agents are Derek Anderson, Antwan Applewhite, Gary Barnidge, Dwan Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Sherrod Martin, Captain Munnerlyn, Louis Murphy and Mike Pollak. Richie Brockel can become an exclusive-rights free agent. Andre Neblett, Nate Ness and Jason Phillips are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

New Orleans Saints. Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Casillas, Chase Daniel, Sedrick Ellis, Devery Henderson, Ramon Humber, Elbert Mack, Turk McBride, Will Robinson, Courtney Roby and Scott Shanle can become unrestricted free agents. Brian De La Puente, Justin Drescher, Junior Galette and Chris Ivory are scheduled to become restricted free agents. Eric Olsen and Michael Higgins can become exclusive-rights free agents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronde Barber, Dallas Clark, Michael Bennett, E.J. Biggers, Andrew Economos, Roy Miller, Roscoe Parrish, Sammie Stroughter and Jeremy Trueblood can become unrestricted free agents. LeGarrette Blount, Jacob Cutrera, Corvey Irvin and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim are scheduled to become restricted free agents.
Back when Curtis Lofton left the Atlanta Falcons for the New Orleans Saints as a free agent, he did it because he wanted to be an every-down linebacker.

Lofton has said the Falcons made it clear to him shortly after the arrival of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan that he’d come off the field on passing downs. The Saints lured Lofton largely by telling him he’d be an every-down linebacker in their system.

He ended up coming very close to literally being an every-down linebacker. The Saints had 1,137 defensive plays. Lofton was on the field for a team-high 1,121 (98.59 percent) of those plays.

Let’s take a look at the playing-time percentage breakdown for the rest of the New Orleans defense:

Looking at New Orleans' free agents

February, 11, 2013
2/11/13
1:17
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Time to continue our look at the NFC South’s potential free agents with the New Orleans Saints.

Their list includes left tackle Jermon Bushrod, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, backup quarterback Chase Daniel, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, receiver Devery Henderson, linebacker Ramon Humber, cornerback Elbert Mack, defensive end Turk McBride, tackle Will Robinson, receiver Courtney Roby and linebacker Scott Shanle. Center Brian De La Puente, center Justin Drescher, defensive end Junior Galette and running back Chris Ivory can be restricted free agents. Safety Rafael Bush, guard Eric Olsen and tight end Michael Higgins can be exclusive-rights free agents.

The big names are Bushrod, who has made himself into a Pro Bowler, and Ellis, a former first-round pick. Although the Saints have major salary-cap issues, they are likely to at least make an attempt to keep Bushrod. But it’s important to remember the Saints aren’t like most other teams when it comes to their philosophy on paying offensive linemen. They have a history of paying more to guards (see Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs) than they do to tackles and Bushrod could get big money on the open market.

Ellis never has lived up to his draft status and, with the Saints switching to a 3-4 defense, I’m not sure he’s a good fit for the scheme.

Henderson and Shanle used to be key players. But age started to catch up to them last season and I don’t see the Saints making a big push to keep them.

Inactives for the Saints

October, 21, 2012
10/21/12
11:39
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The New Orleans Saints just announced their inactives for Sunday’s game with the Buccaneers.

No major surprises. Injured tight end Jimmy Graham and linebacker David Hawthorne are out.

The other inactives are running back Chris Ivory, cornerback Elbert Mack, defensive end Turk McBride, offensive tackle Bryce Harris and defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker.

I'll be back with inactives for the Bucs in a few moments.

NFC South evening update

September, 26, 2012
9/26/12
6:43
PM ET
Let's take a look at the day's biggest headlines from around the NFC South:

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Coach Greg Schiano said he wants to have more of a 1-2 punch with running backs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount. As we pointed out Tuesday, Martin has been on the field for 140 of Tampa Bay’s 177 offensive plays, while Blount, the starter most of the last two seasons, has participated in only 12 plays. Martin’s not about to lose the starting job, but it does make sense to get Blount more involved. He’s a big, physical back and rotating him in from time to time could cause some matchup issues for defenses.

With defensive end Adrian Clayborn lost with a season-ending injury, Daniel Te’o-Nesheim said he embraces a chance at a starting role. He should. This was a guy that was a third-round pick by Philadelphia in 2010 and now is his chance to prove he wasn’t a bust.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

This news doesn’t bode well for the Saints as they prepare to head to Lambeau Field. Their defense is banged up. Linebackers David Hawthorne and Jonathan Casillas and defensive end Turk McBride were held out of practice due to injuries on Wednesday.

The Saints have talked a fair amount about how it’s going to take time to master coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive system. Gerry V asks if it’s really necessary to make a defense so complicated. I’m not so sure Spagnuolo’s defense really is that complicated. I think the bigger problem is that the Saints don’t have the type of personnel in the front four to really make this defensive scheme work. That’s something that should have been addressed in the offseason.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

There’s been a lot of hoopla about wide receiver Steve Smith saying he “lit into’’ Cam Newton when the quarterback was sulking on the sideline near the end of last week’s loss to the New York Giants. On Wednesday, Newton said he has no problem with Smith and looks upon the receiver as a “big brother." That’s a good thing. Newton could use a little guidance right now. Say what you want about Smith, but the man wants to win and he wants Newton to help accomplish that.

Smith, on the other hand, says he regrets telling the media about the incident. I don’t see anything wrong with what Smith making it public. But, then again, I’m part of the media, so I’m all for open-door policies.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Zeke Trezevant explains what sparked tight end Tony Gonzalez’s big day in San Diego. It’s pretty simple. The Falcons were using their safeties on receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones much of the game. That left linebackers trying to cover Gonzalez and that’s a mismatch.

Mike Sando has Matt Ryan at the top of his MVP Watch. Can’t argue with that. It’s only three weeks into the season, but I don’t see anyone else in the league that’s started off as well as Ryan.

Saints without two injured starters

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
11:42
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- As expected, the New Orleans Saints will be without two injured starters. Receiver Devery Henderson (concussion) and cornerback Johnny Patrick (thigh) are inactive for Sunday’s game with Carolina.

The other inactives are running back Chris Ivory, running back Travaris Cadet, defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, offensive lineman Bryce Harris and defensive end Turk McBride. Lance Moore is likely to start in Henderson’s place with Greg Camarillo and Joe Morgan getting time as the third and fourth receivers. Jabari Greer returns after missing last week’s game and will start at cornerback opposite Patrick Robinson. Rookie Corey White is expected to be used as the third cornerback.

Also, rookie defensive tackle Akiem Hicks will be active for the first time.

Carolina’s inactives are quarterback Jimmy Clausen, defensive back D.J. Campbell, linebacker Kenny Onatolu, tackle Bruce Campbell, guard Mike Pollak, tight end Ben Hartsock and defensive tackle Frank Kearse. Receiver Steve Smith and running back Jonathan Stewart, who had been listed as questionable, are active for Carolina.

Checking the injuries that matter most

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
3:00
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The final injury reports are out for the three NFC South teams that play Sunday, so let’s get a status report on the most significant concerns for each team.

Tampa Bay right tackle Jeremy Trueblood (ankle) practiced on a limited basis. Coach Greg Schiano said it’s too early to tell if Trueblood will be able to play Sunday. If he doesn’t, Demar Dotson would get the start and, right or wrong, I know there are a number of Tampa Bay fans who believe that would be an upgrade.

Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart (ankle) and wide receiver Steve Smith (knee) are listed as questionable. But coach Ron Rivera indicated he was optimistic both will be able to play against the Saints.

The Saints have declared three players will miss Sunday’s game. Cornerback Johnny Patrick (thigh), receiver Devery Henderson (concussion) and defensive end Turk McBride (ankle) are listed as out. Cornerback Jabari Greer is listed as questionable, but he’s practiced all week and likely will start opposite Patrick Robinson. Without Henderson, the Saints will need Joe Morgan and Greg Camarillo to contribute as the third and fourth receivers after Lance Moore and Marques Colston. Linebacker Scott Shanle (leg) also is listed as questionable.

The Atlanta Falcons don’t play until Monday night and don’t have to file their final injury report until Saturday afternoon.

NFC South afternoon update

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
5:02
PM ET
Time for an afternoon drive through the NFC South headlines.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Running back LeGarrette Blount practiced Thursday and said he’s fine to play as much as the Bucs need him on Sunday. I guess the question becomes, how much will the Bucs use Blount as the backup behind rookie Doug Martin.

Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood missed practice with an ankle injury. If he’s not ready to play Sunday, it’s likely Demar Dotson would get the start.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The attorney for linebacker Jonathan Vilma said he was stunned by the statement the NFL released earlier Thursday and said that the appeals panel specifically said the suspensions were “vacated." You had to expect the war of words to heat up again as Vilma and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell prepare to meet next week.

Receiver Devery Henderson (concussion), cornerback Johnny Patrick (thigh) and defensive end Turk McBride (ankle) each missed their second straight day of practice. It’s looking like the Saints will have to use Joe Morgan and Greg Camarillo behind starters Marques Colston and Lance Moore. Although Patrick is out, Jabari Greer is expected to be healthy for the first time this season.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

There suddenly have been a lot of comparisons between Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III and Carolina’s Cam Newton. That’s because the Saints played Griffin last week and face Newton on Sunday. Both were Heisman Trophy winners and both can run. But Carolina coach Ron Rivera said the two quarterbacks aren’t all that similar and said Newton is more of a vertical passer.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Panthers had only 10 rushing yards in the season opener. But Bryan Strickland makes an excellent point as he writes the Panthers didn’t run the ball well in the first two games of last season. But they went on to rush for more than 100 yards in the final 14 games of last season, a franchise record.

ATLANTA FALCONS

Coach Mike Smith said Thursday at Christopher Owens will take over at nickel back after the Falcons lost Brent Grimes to a season-ending injury. Dunta Robinson, who played inside in nickel situations in the opener, will move outside and start at right cornerback with Asante Samuel starting on the left side. Owens will get the first shot at nickel back, but the Falcons also have Dominique Franks, Robert McClain and Terrence Johnson to turn to if he falters.

There’s a subplot of note to Monday night’s game between Atlanta and Denver. Jack Del Rio is now Denver’s defensive coordinator. He was the head coach in Jacksonville when Atlanta head coach Mike Smith and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter worked there.
Jonathan VilmaDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma will have a great impact on the Saints even if he doesn't start immediately.
Ever since the NFL announced player suspensions for what it called a three-year bounty program by New Orleans, I’ve said the on-field implications for the Saints weren’t that significant.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma was handed a season-long suspension and defensive end Will Smith received a four-game suspension. Vilma has been the leader of the defense since his arrival in 2008, but knee problems and age seemed to slow him last season. The Saints signed Curtis Lofton in free agency, and I view him as an upgrade over Vilma, who's on the back half of his career. Smith is New Orleans’ top pass-rusher, but the Saints could have gotten through those four games without too much trouble. They survived last season when Smith was suspended for the first two games.

But after hearing Friday’s news that an appeals panel has overturned the suspensions, I've changed my mind. I think having Vilma and Smith back is a huge victory for the Saints and will be significant on the field.

Let’s start with Smith. The Saints probably could have gotten by with Turk McBride, Junior Galette and Martez Wilson sharing Smith’s spot. But this team is much better with its best pass-rusher, especially when you consider the Saints open against the Washington Redskins and rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III on Sunday. Smith didn’t practice this week, but he went through training camp and is in good shape. I think it’s safe to say Smith will be even more motivated than usual this weekend.

Now let’s move over to Vilma. Part of the reason the Saints have had one of the best franchises in the NFL the past four seasons is they have outstanding leadership. Everyone knows about quarterback Drew Brees' leadership skills. But I don’t think people who haven’t been around the Saints can really understand what Vilma means to this team. He essentially is to the defense what Brees is to the offense. Vilma is the heart and soul of the unit and is respected every bit as much as Brees is in the locker room.

Vilma was rehabbing his knee before his suspension began and wasn’t able to take part in the offseason program. I don’t know what Vilma’s current health status is. He may not be ready for Sunday’s season opener and there’s been speculation he might begin the season on the physically unable to perform list.

His health isn’t the important thing here. Just having Vilma in the locker room is even more important than having him on the field.

He’s smart, he’s good with young players and he’s a fiery competitor. I have little doubt that all that Vilma has been through recently will not make him even more fiery. The Saints already approached this season with a chip on their shoulder and view themselves in a situation in which the world is against them. Vilma only is going to add to that.

Vilma has been trying to clear his name, and the lifting of the suspension certainly helps. But a lot of people still will look at him and think “bounty." There still is a chance that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could reissue some sort of punishment, but the panel said that can only happen if there is evidence of more than a pay-for-performance program. That means there still is the possibility of more mudslinging.

But as long as he’s reinstated, Vilma holds the upper hand when it comes to clearing his name. The best and purest way to do that is to go out and provide the kind of leadership he always has for his teammates. The Super Bowl is in New Orleans this season. If the Saints can become the first team to play in a Super Bowl in their hometown, Vilma, Smith and the Saints can come out of what was an absolute mess looking very good.

With coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis still serving suspensions, the Saints need all the leadership they can get. They should get plenty from Vilma, Brees and, to a lesser extent, Smith. But maybe Vilma’s even more of a leader than any of us previously realized. He fought his suspension so hard and, at least for the moment, has won. What’s happened with Vilma just might lead Payton, Vitt and Loomis to resort to legal action to get their suspensions overturned.

If that happens, Vilma will be New Orleans’ most valuable player, even if his knee doesn’t allow him to play a down this season.

Around the NFC South

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
10:27
AM ET
Time for a look at the Friday morning headlines from around the division:

ATLANTA FALCONS

Owner Arthur Blank tells D. Orlando Ledbetter that coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are not on the hot seat. They shouldn’t be. They’ve had four straight winning seasons. But there is no doubt this is a crucial year for Smith and Dimitroff. They have yet to win a playoff game. If they don’t do that this season, then they really will be on the hot seat.

Cornerback Asante Samuel says he doesn’t care if he technically is a starter. I don’t think he will be because I think Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson will be the starters. But the Falcons are going to use the nickel package so often that Samuel will play almost as much as Grimes and Robinson.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Running back Jonathan Stewart, who is recovering from an ankle injury, did not practice with the team Thursday. Stewart ran on the side with trainers. The Panthers are expected to make a decision Friday if Stewart will play in Sunday’s game at Tampa Bay.

Quarterback Cam Newton said center Ryan Kalil is his “hero’’ for taking out a full-page newspaper ad to promise the Panthers will win the Super Bowl. Newton didn’t publicly advertise it, but he shares the same goal

Although he just joined the team this week, defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is expected to start right away. He’ll join veteran Ron Edwards in the middle of the defensive line. That should make the interior of the defensive line dramatically better than it was last season.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

The Saints scored 329 points in their home games last season. That’s more than 12 NFL teams scored all season. Sunday’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, scored 288 points in 16 games.

The Saints are expected to start Turk McBride at defensive end in place of the suspended Will Smith. I think Junior Galette and Martez Wilson will get some playing time on passing downs. But McBride is a veteran who can be a factor against both the run and the pass and he should be able to handle the starting role.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Rookie linebacker Lavonte David has some history with Carolina’s Newton. They faced each other once before. They played against each other for the junior college national championship and Newton’s team won.

Coach Greg Schiano puts a strong emphasis on protecting the ball. Quarterback Josh Freeman is well aware of that and he realizes he can’t have anywhere close to the 22 interceptions he threw last season.

Around the NFC South

June, 4, 2012
6/04/12
10:15
AM ET
Time for a look at some of the headlines from around the NFC South.
  • Although Martez Wilson, Junior Galette and Greg Romeus have generated a buzz due to their potential, Mike Triplett writes that Turk McBride is the favorite to start at right defensive end for the Saints the first four games of the season, if Will Smith’s suspension is upheld. McBride started last year when Smith was suspended at the start of the season and produced two sacks in three games before being slowed by injuries.
  • The Panthers brought in Haruki Nakamura and Reggie Smith, but Sherrod Martin still believes the starting job at free safety is his. But Martin acknowledges he has to improve his tackling. He missed far too many open-field tackles last season. I think Martin has the inside track on the starting job. But I think coach Ron Rivera will keep him on a very short leash. We could see Nakamura or Smith pushed into the lineup the first time Martin misses a tackle.
  • Atlanta receiver Roddy White said he might be doing less in Atlanta’s offense next season. That doesn’t mean White’s numbers will drop dramatically. It just means the Falcons are diversifying their offense and some things will be different. They’ll be throwing more to Jacquizz Rodgers out of the backfield and using more tight ends. Still, I think there will be plenty of passes thrown down the field for White and Julio Jones.
  • Sports Illustrated, which picked the Falcons to win the Super Bowl last season, isn’t quite as high on them this time around. Sports Illustrated is projecting the Falcons to reach the playoffs, but said they have too many question marks to make a deep run in the postseason.
  • Tampa Bay made a big splash in free agency this year, but don’t expect that to happen every year. Coach Greg Schiano said his basic philosophy is to build through the draft and that’s the same philosophy held by general manager Mark Dominik. The two decided this was an exceptional year because the Bucs had plenty of salary-cap room and guys such as Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Eric Wright were on the market. There’s one other factor at work here that makes me believe Schiano is very serious when he said this year was unique. Looking ahead at Tampa Bay’s salary-cap situation for 2013, the Bucs already have committed about $115 million in salary-cap space and that’s not even counting rookies Mark Barron and Doug Martin, who have yet to sign. The Bucs simply aren’t going to have a lot of cap space next year.
As severe as the New Orleans Saints’ player suspensions were for their three-year bounty program, they’re not entirely devastating.

Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season, and defensive end Will Smith will be suspended for the first four games. That’s all, as far as current Saints go. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, drew an eight-game suspension, and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, will be suspended for the first three games of the season.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Vilma
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireJonathan Vilma had a down season in 2011, collecting 54 tackles in 11 games.
But let’s stick to the current Saints and how this latest news impacts them. There’s no doubt Vilma’s suspension is severe. But the overall news wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The NFL initially said 22 to 27 players were involved in the bounty program, and there was fear many more current Saints could end up with suspensions.

But only Vilma and Smith ended up drawing suspensions. Those two have been defensive leaders for the Saints in recent years, but their suspensions aren’t going to gut the New Orleans defense.

The Saints had spent the offseason bracing for a possible lengthy suspension for Vilma, although I suspect the full season is about a half-season longer than what the Saints suspected. But they were proactive at linebacker. They went out and got free agent Curtis Lofton from Atlanta. They also added David Hawthorne from Seattle and Chris Chamberlain from St. Louis.

Let’s be real honest here. As great as Vilma was in the Saints' 2009 Super Bowl season, and maybe even in 2010, he had a down year in 2011. He tried to play through a knee injury before finally having knee surgery that kept him out for five games. Even after his return, Vilma wasn’t the same player he was in earlier seasons.

Plug in Lofton, who is younger and healthier, as the starting middle linebacker and the Saints may have an upgraded linebacker corps. Hawthorne and Chamberlain also can play outside and they’ll compete with Scott Shanle, Jonathan Casillas, Martez Wilson and Will Herring for playing time. The Saints are pretty well set at linebacker.

Defensive end is another story, and the Saints will have to get through contests against the Redskins, Panthers, Chiefs and Packers without Smith, who led the team with 6.5 sacks last season. That will be a challenge, especially in a system in which new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo likes to get the bulk of his pass rush from the front four.

Smith is the only member of the front four with a proven track record of getting pressure on quarterbacks. Cameron Jordan, who had one sack as a rookie, was projected as a starter even before Smith’s suspension. The Saints could go with Turk McBride or Junior Galette (or a combination of the two) at the other end spot.

But it also is entirely possible the Saints will try to find another defensive end (or two) in free agency.

Around the NFC South

March, 10, 2012
3/10/12
10:44
AM ET
Let's take a look at the top Saturday morning headlines from around the NFC South.

New Orleans guard Carl Nicks didn’t sound optimistic about his chances of returning to the Saints in this radio interview. He said the Saints seem to want to go in another direction. Nicks knows more about what has or hasn’t happened in talks so far. But I wouldn’t count Nicks out of New Orleans just yet. There’s still time for something to get done and sometimes things can change quickly when there is a sense of urgency.

Roddy White weighed in on the Saints’ bounty scandal. Surprisingly, the often-outspoken Atlanta receiver didn’t say anything controversial.

The Saints reportedly re-signed reserve defensive end Turk McBride.

Here’s a list of the Falcons’ top-10 salary-cap figures for 2012.

Scott Fowler has an excellent reflective piece on how the Carolina Panthers attempted to trade for Peyton Manning before he came out in the 1998 draft. The Panthers wanted to send Kerry Collins and draft picks to Indianapolis for the right to draft Manning. Obviously, no deal went down. But, imagine the possibilities? Dom Capers still might be coaching the Panthers and George Seifert’s disastrous reign never would have happened. Of course, the flip side is the Panthers probably wouldn’t have Cam Newton right now.

Here’s a look at a list of offensive linemen the Bucs could target in free agency. Ironically, I think there’s a better chance the top two guys on the list – Nicks and tackle Jared Gaither – end up with the Falcons instead of the Bucs.
Carolina’s Greg Hardy and Tampa Bay rookie Adrian Clayborn weren’t among the NFL’s sack leaders in 2011, but you can make the argument they’re among the best all-around defensive ends in the game.

Clayborn
Clayborn
Hardy
Hardy
Hardy and Clayborn showed some pass-rush skills, but they also played the run very well. That combination of skills was why they were on the field more than the rest of the NFC South defensive ends last season.

Hardy led division ends by participating in 891 of Carolina’s 1,023 defensive plays. That 87.1 percentage ranked Hardy No. 6 among defensive ends. Minnesota’s Jared Allen led the league at 94.3 percent.

Clayborn wasn’t far behind Hardy. Clayborn came in at 80.9 percent, which put him No. 15 in the NFL. Carolina’s Charles Johnson and New Orleans’ Will Smith also ranked in the top 20.

Johnson was on the field for 77.5 percent (No. 16 in the NFL) of Carolina’s defensive plays and Smith took part in 75.8 of New Orleans’ defensive plays (19th in the league).

Ray Edwards led Atlanta’s defensive ends by taking part in 69 percent of the plays. Although he was on a play count and used mostly in pass-rushing situations, veteran John Abraham took part in 61.8 percent of Atlanta’s defensive plays.

Here’s a look at playing-time percentages for most of the rest of the NFC South defensive ends:

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