NFC Notes: Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Teddy Bridgewater

     

Buccaneers

Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette explained that he turned down more money from other teams to return to Tampa Bay. 

“It was a difficult process. I knew what I deserved,” Fournette said, via NFL.com. “I believed in myself, and I just wanted to come back and enjoy myself. Instead of me coming and being the new face on the block, I came back to the team that I enjoyed my process with. I think me coming to this team kind of humbled me a lot, being around so much talent, and you’re so used to being that guy on the team. I think it just helped develop me as a better man, too. I could’ve went somewhere and got more money, but I think this is just the place right now.

“It made perfect sense to come back,” Fournette added. “Despite whatever the money was, I feel great. I’m happy to be back. They’re happy I’m back. I love this organization, I love the players, the coaches, and we’re just trying to run it back.”

Falcons

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that the Falcons’ brain trust is currently split on how to proceed with the No. 4 overall pick. 

“What I’m hearing is that [GM Terry] Fontenot is more focused on quarterback, and [HC] Arthur Smith believes that Matt Ryan does have two or more years left. He has no real medical history, he hasn’t missed many games in his career and there hasn’t been a big drop-off in his play,” Mortensen said via SB Nation’s Evan Birchfield.

Mortensen adds if the Falcons were to take a quarterback, they’re currently believed to be leaning toward North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

  • CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones says the Falcons would welcome adding a bunch of picks to help fill out their roster and rebuild their defense. He adds the organization wants it known that they can do anything with the No. 4 pick, including taking a quarterback. 
  • The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz notes the Falcons have been taking calls and been open to trading down for a while now. 
  • The NFLPA released its calculations for the performance-based pay benefit that was eliminated in 2020 but will still be paid by teams. Each team split $8.5 million between its players and payments are deferred to 2024. 
  • The top Falcons player was LB Foyesade Oluokun ($538,001). 

Panthers

In the grand scheme of things, a second-round pick and $23 million over two years is not a lot to pay for a quarterback. That’s how Panthers GM Scott Fitterer is viewing the trade for QB Sam Darnold, as a minimal-risk gamble that has the potential to pay off big if Darnold recaptures the potential that prompted the Jets to draft him No. 3 overall just three years ago. 

“I think he still has all those traits to be a successful quarterback. I still think he’s highly competitive. I think he’s smart enough. I like the skill set. He’s only 23 years old,” Fitterer said via the Athletic’s Joe Person. “A lot of these quarterbacks don’t mature and hit their prime until they’re 24, 25, 26. So if this is a player that we can hit on at this price and he is our quarterback of the future, it’s definitely worth a gamble.”

While it appears the Panthers are hitching their wagon to Darnold for the next two years after picking up his fifth-year option, Fitterer claims they’re not so invested in Darnold to the point that they couldn’t take a quarterback at No. 8 if someone they like is available. 

“This doesn’t take out of anything in the draft,” Fitterer said via Darin Gantt of the team’s website. “It doesn’t take us out of taking a quarterback, it doesn’t take us out of taking any position. What we wanted to do going into this draft, through free agency, through this trade with Sam, was to just get rid of all the needs we have. We wanted to get to a place where the roster was in a good spot, and we could take the best available player at No. 8. We could always move up, and we could always move back, but this puts us in a position to make the right football decision for this team moving forward.”

  • According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapaport, when Matt Rhule interviewed for the Jets HC job in 2019, he talked with Darnold and was impressed that the quarterback was more interested in Rhule’s culture fit rather than scheme.
  • The Athletic’s Connor Hughes reports the Broncos were also involved with the Jets in trade talks for Darnold.  
  • Albert Breer reports the Jets and Panthers first discussed a trade in mid-February, and the talks picked up in the last few weeks.
  • Jets GM Joe Douglas talked face-to-face at the Ohio State Pro Day with Fitterer and Rhule. The Jets were looking for a second-round pick and a mid-round pick or player in return for Darnold, which is similar to the Josh Rosen trade from a few years ago. 
  • According to Breer, the teams talked about multiple trade options, including the Jets trading Darnold and the No. 23 overall pick for the Panthers’ No. 8 selection. However, Carolina ultimately declined the offer.
  • Douglas mentioned Tuesday there were never any “meaningful” discussions with the Panthers about trading for the No. 2 pick. (Ralph Vacchiano)
  • The NFLPA released its calculations for the performance-based pay benefit that was eliminated in 2020 but will still be paid by teams. Each team split $8.5 million between its players and payments are deferred to 2024. 
  • The top Panthers player was RT Taylor Moton ($469,785). 

Teddy Bridgewater

  • According to KUSA’s Mike Klis, the Broncos explored a trade for Panthers QB Teddy Bridgewater after missing on a deal for Matthew Stafford. He’s told the team continues to monitor multiple options at the position. 
  • CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora also confirms the Broncos have some interest in Bridgewater and he thinks that ultimately is where he ends up. 
  • La Canfora adds he thinks if Carolina was willing to trade within the NFC South, the Saints, Buccaneers and Falcons all could have interest in Bridgewater.
  • La Canfora says the Saints obviously love Bridgewater from the two seasons he spent with them and the Buccaneers have also had internal discussions about Bridgewater. 
  • He acknowledges it’s more likely Bridgewater would have to be released to stay in the NFC South, though.
  • The Panthers have reportedly shopped Bridgewater “aggressively” for weeks now, according to Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. However, it’s to the point where Breer isn’t sure there’s any team interested in parting with compensation for him. Although, Breer admits that a pay cut could change the dynamic some. 
  • Breer mentions that Bridgewater’s contract, with a $17 million base value, will be very difficult to trade.
  • Panthers GM Scott Fitterer says he and Bridgewater’s representatives spoke following the Darnold trade: “I think we’re all on the same page with where we stand.” (Joe Person)

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