Counting down to free agency

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Some random NFC South thoughts as we count down to the start of free agency:

  • Keep an eye on the other three NFC South teams as a possible landing spot for wide receiver Ike Hilliard, who was released Wednesday by the Buccaneers. Atlanta and Carolina each may well be in the market for a reliable No. 3 or 4 receiver. Hilliard is far from spectacular, but he's as dependable as they come. Carolina coach John Fox was defensive coordinator with the Giants when Hilliard was with them, so there's some familiarity there. Speaking of familiarity, New Orleans coach Sean Payton was offensive coordinator with the Giants and has worked even more closely with Hilliard. The Saints have good group of young receivers with Marques Colston and Lance Moore as the starters, but it wouldn't hurt to have someone like Hilliard in case Robert Meachem doesn't come on like the Saints are hoping. Don't look for Hilliard to be signed immediately. He's an older receiver and teams have bigger fish to fry at the start of free agency, but I'm hearing the Saints, Panthers and Falcons will at least be keeping Hilliard in mind.

  • I've speculated before that I don't think cornerback Domonique Foxworth is going to stay with the Falcons. I'll go a little further now and say I'm pretty certain he's not going to re-sign with the Falcons and will sign somewhere else pretty quickly. Sounds like the Falcons were hesitant to pay him starter money and it looks like he might get that somewhere else.

  • Couple of housekeeping notes that I haven't had a chance to get to. The Bucs placed the highest restricted free agent tender on left tackle Donald Penn and the Panthers place lower tenders on tight end Jeff King and James Anderson. The Panthers also elected not to place a tender on defensive tackle Gary Gibson. That's enough on restricted free agents, because teams have done what they had to do there and it's rare for another team to try to sign a restricted free agent.

  • More housekeeping: The Panthers extended the contract of defensive tackle Damione Lewis through 2014. Lewis had been under contract through 2010. He's carved a niche for himself in Carolina and deserves the boost, but this deal also was beneficial to the Panthers because it created some more salary-cap room -- and Carolina doesn't have a lot of that right now.

  • Stay tuned throughout the evening and, probably even into the early morning, for more on the start of free agency.