NFC South Notes: Buccaneers, Panthers, Saints


After a rookie season that was possibly even lower than rock bottom, Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones has had a much better 2019 so far. Though it’s just been through spring and summer practices, Buccaneers HC Bruce Arians has been consistent in his praise of Jones. 

“He’s an explosive player,” Arians said via Eduardo Encina of the Tampa Bay Times. “He’s going to be a heck of a player for us. He’s going to make big plays for us. . . . He’s probably best between the tackles, but he took that one around the end and nobody could catch him. He’s got that breakaway speed and the size. His best runs have been tackle to tackle until that one.”

  • The Athletic’s Greg Auman doesn’t expect the Buccaneers to be a factor for Redskins OT Trent Williams
  • Tampa Bay has only around $3 million in cap space and is paying three offensive linemen more than $10 million a year in salary. 


Panthers QB Cam Newton has had a strong start to training camp, as his arm strength appears to have returned following offseason shoulder surgery. However, the rest breaks built into Newton’s schedule are a reminder of how tenuous that shoulder could still be. 

“It’s still a work in progress,” Newton said via WFNZ. “One thing I wanted to work on was just being honest with myself. Knowing when to sit out of practice and working on my body. I’m as hungry as ever. But guys that are on board on offense need me to be my best self.”

“I don’t want people to just assume Cam’s back,” Newton added via Bill Voth of the team website. “I’m putting in a lot of work to get where I need to be. It’s a process.”

The Panthers started training camp with second-year S Rashaan Gaulden penciled in to start at free safety. So far, though, the team has moved players around to try and find the most ideal fit, giving CB Ross Cockrell reps at free safety and moving Gaulden to more of a nickel role.

“Last year he showed that he can play in the box. He’s a physical, downhill player, and we want to put him in the best position to be successful because we believe it’ll help us,” Panthers HC Ron Rivera said via the Athletic’s Joseph Person. “We use a big nickel package a lot. And if this is a guy that can show us he can do it, we most certainly would like to have him on the field.”

  • The Panthers also signed S Tre Boston as a missing piece to bolster the back end of their defense at free safety: “That’s what they told me I was. I believe I’m one of the best in the league. Stats show it. I looked at the depth chart and said we can be something special.” (Max Henson)
  • While he’s happy to be back in Carolina, Boston had to wait until training camp again to sign a deal for the second straight year despite being a starter for most of the past four seasons: “Once you sign you just have to put it to the side. For me, it’s all about honing in and having fun again. Kind of have to let that go.” 
  • Boston hinted his social activism played a role in his extended stay on the free-agent market the past few seasons, and the Panthers were more open to signing players like that with current owner David Tepper: “I mean, we all kind of know, but I’m back, so. We’re under new management now, so I’m happy.” (Jourdan Rodrigue
  • Rivera says Gaulden is dealing with a lower back injury, but the move to sign Boston was independent of that. (Joseph Person)
  • Rivera adds there’s still a large role for Gaulden in their big nickel package, which Carolina could be in 25-30 percent of the time this year. (Rodrigue)
  • Rivera mentioned Panthers LB Luke Kuechly sat out practice Thursday as a predetermined day off unrelated to the issue that caused him to leave practice Wednesday. (Rodrigue)
  • Newton also had a scheduled day off. (Henson)


Saints QB Drew Brees is no stranger to making lots of money as one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Joining him now is teammate WR Michael Thomas, who is one of the few non-quarterbacks to approach the $20 million per year threshold. Now, Thomas faces questions about if he’s worth it. 

“If your question is: ‘Do I want Michael Thomas on my team to be able to throw the ball to him’ … Yes,” Brees joked via’s Jeff Nowak. “Obviously it was a lot of money, prices keep going up, but that’s what the market demanded. That’s a separate conversation.”

Thomas, meanwhile, already has his eyes set on his next contract in New Orleans. To do that, though, he’s focused on proving he’s worth every penny of his current deal. 

“After I signed that deal I told (Saints GM) Mickey (Loomis) I’ll be back to do a third deal,” Thomas said via Pro Football Talk. “Now it’s on to the next goal. You’re now the highest-paid, now you’ve got to go earn it. So that’s the biggest thing I’m trying to do. I’m trying to earn every penny of it.”

  • The Athletic’s Larry Holder looks at other Saints players who will need to be re-signed in the near future, starting with RB Alvin Kamara, who is eligible for an extension following this season and becomes an unrestricted free agent after 2020. 
  • Holder writes that Kamara’s contract should set the market for “flex” players at running back who are also capable receivers. Rams RB Todd Gurley‘s $14.4 million per year is currently the bar for running backs.
  • Holder mentions a holdout as a possibility for Kamara next season given the battle over running back salaries. 
  • Saints DT Sheldon Rankins is under contract for 2020 at $7.7 million under the fifth-year option. Holder says the team can negotiate with Rankins this season, but will likely wait to see how he recovers from his Achilles injury. 
  • If he proves he’s healthy, Rankins should be able sign a deal averaging more than $10 million per season. 
  • The Saints can start negotiating with CB Marshon Lattimore following the 2019 season and have team control through 2021 with the fifth-year option. 
  • According to Holder, that buys the Saints some time with his contract, as if he keeps up his current level of play he’ll have a case to top Xavien Howard‘s $15.05 million per year as the NFL’s highest-paid corner. 
  • Similar to Lattimore, the Saints have control through 2021 with OT Ryan Ramczyk, who can become among the NFL’s highest-paid right tackles on his next contract. Raiders OT Trent Brown currently paces the market at $16.5 million a year. 
  • Holder notes the Saints will likely let S Vonn Bell play out his contract in 2019, as he’s had some struggles in the past and the safety market has exploded after a lull. 
  • Per Holder, the Saints will also have decisions to make on G Andrus Peat, WR Ted Ginn, CB Eli Apple and LB A.J. Klein after 2019.
  • Another major variable Holder notes is quarterback, as the Saints will still have a significant hit on their cap from Brees even when he retires, which could limit their flexibility bringing in other starting options. 

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