NFC South Notes: Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints

     

Buccaneers

Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard‘s first year under HC Bruce Arians was rough. Arians’ scheme isn’t known for featuring tight ends as prominently as others and the coach didn’t see everything he wanted from Howard despite his talent. His name came up in trade rumors around the deadline, particularly with New England which needed a Rob Gronkowski replacement for former QB Tom Brady. But in the end, it was Brady who came to Howard, who has the chance to rejuvenate his career catching passes from the quarterback who famously loves tight ends. 

“His eyes should light up,” Arians said via ESPN’s Jenna Laine. “It’s still going out on the practice field and earning that trust. I think that will be his No. 1 focus. You have a quarterback that likes to throw to tight ends — go earn it and get balls thrown to you.”

Falcons

Per the Athletic’s Mike Sando, NFL evaluators were impressed by what the Falcons were able to accomplish despite a tricky cap situation, bringing in RB Todd Gurley, DE Dante Fowler and TE Hayden Hurst to replace RB Devonta Freeman, DE Vic Beasley and TE Austin Hooper. 

“They have a lot of good talent, they finished the season strong, they are bringing back their core pieces, and what are they really losing?” one executive said. “If they have a solid draft, which could be tougher for everyone in the current offseason climate, they are New Orleans 2.0 from a couple years ago when they restocked the coffers. If they miss, they are going to have some issues, and it could be a long rebuild there because their cap situation might be the worst in the league.”

Panthers

  • Per the Athletic’s Mike Sando, NFL executives generally understood the overall arch of the Panthers’ rebuilding plan this offseason, though the specific moves were a little more confusing: “They are clearly going for a culture restart, which is great, and this is how you do it — you clear the decks. The thing that gets me about them is trading Trai Turner for Russell Okung. That makes no sense. Okung is five years older, he has had a serious health issue, and he is the definition of a locker room lawyer. And then when you are thinking of a culture builder, I’m not sure WR Robby Anderson is who I am thinking about first.”
  • Others were split on Carolina’s acquisition of QB Teddy Bridgewater, with some pegging the Panthers as candidates to tank for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence in 2021: “I get you want to set a winning culture right away, but if I’m an owner and we start off 0-4, I’m really tempted to tank for Trevor, just take your bullets for one year.”
  • According to ESPN’s Field Yates, Panthers LB Shaq Thompson ($8 million), DT Gerald McCoy ($2 million) and S Eric Reid ($1.5 million) are due deferred signing bonus payments by today, April 1. 

Saints

  • Nick Underhill of NewOrleans.Football reports that Saints DT Sheldon Rankins (Achilles) is expected to be recovered in time for training camp. 
  • According to Underhill, Rankins was recovering from a 2018 Achilles injury when he sustained a flareup in his opposite leg during the 2019 season.
  • Underhill adds that Rankins’ flareup required surgery that “essentially preempted” a possible ruptured Achilles.  
  • Per the Athletic’s Katherine Terrell, Saints HC Sean Payton may have accidentally revealed that 2020 will be QB Drew Brees‘ final season while discussing backup QB Taysom Hill in an interview on ESPN: “The unique situation with our team and quarterback Drew Brees, he’s announced he’s coming back for his final season.”
  • Payton later backtracked his comments: “I’m a big dummy. I was chatting on ESPN and the way I worded it was that Brees was coming back from his last year. … I think his plan is to take it year by year.” (Terrell)
  • Because Hill does so much outside of just being the backup quarterback, Payton says the Saints will add a third quarterback to be active on gamedays. (Larry Holder)
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