Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every week. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
Table of Contents
• The Falcons have a new head coach and a new general manager, but according to owner Arthur Blank, they won’t have a new quarterback.
“I’d be shocked, completely shocked if he is not. It really has nothing to do with his contract. Matt has played at a very high level for us since 2008 when we drafted him,” Blank said of long-time starter Matt Ryan. “Matt can still play at a very high level so we expect him to be a Falcon next year, fully. Same question was raised regarding Julio Jones and we expect Julio to be a Falcon next year and play at a very high level as well. . . . They’ll both be with us.”
While Blank said it has nothing to do with his contract, that most certainly is a factor. Ryan’s cap hit would be over $45 million in dead money if the Falcons traded or released Ryan this offseason. Blank was a guest with Andrew Siciliano on NFL Network last week.
• Falcons running back Todd Gurley, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams before being released last offseason, recently said the trade of his former teammate Jared Goff didn’t come as a big shock.
“Well, another situation where I wasn’t surprised again,” Gurley said “But you know, I like Goff, I like Goff, he’s a good guy. Don’t nobody care about who’s a good guy. I’m just happy he’ll be able to go somewhere and hopefully those guys welcome him with open arms and just not be judgmental and just let him play. He’s been a No. 1 pick for a reason, and he has a lot of ball left in him.”
Gurley went on to say a change of scenery could benefit Goff.
“It could be a good thing for him, you know? Just add an extra chip on your shoulder,” Gurley said. “A lot of players like to play with chips on their shoulder, but it’s a lot different when you’re a franchise quarterback and you take your team to the Super Bowl and two years later you’re on a whole other team. Like I told him, man, love him, just want him to be happy and keep doing what you’re doing.”
• Atlanta filled two more roles for their new coaching staff, adding Thomas Stallworth as strength and conditioning coach and Brian Griffin who was hired as the director of coaching operations.
• Teddy Bridgewater signed a three-year deal in free agency last spring but the odds of him playing out the length of the contract appears to be getting smaller. Head coach Matt Rhule hasn’t hidden the fact he wasn’t overly pleased with Bridgewater’s first season under center in Carolina and details of what the Panthers offered Detroit for Matt Stafford have been revealed according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
According to Schefter, the Panthers offered the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a fifth-round pick to Detroit, who chose to deal Stafford to Los Angeles.
• After signing the richest contract in NFL history for a running back last year, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey played in just three games and totaled just 225 yards rushing and five scores. Despite a major setback with numerous injuries, McCaffrey told PFT Live last week he may be better in the long run.
“It made me a lot hungrier,” McCaffrey said. “It took me out of my realm for a while to understand how much I love this game. You kinda get that 7-year-old football love back when it’s taken from you. Ultimately, this is something that might add another three, four years to my career. I definitely view it, although negative in the moment, it will be a positive in the long run.”
• A handful of former Panther players who faced Bucs QB Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVIII back in 2003 recently commented in amazement on Brady still playing at a high level.
“My gosh, think about it,” former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “He’s played in 18 percent of all the Super Bowls ever played. That’s absurd.”
“I played 10 years in the league,” former Panthers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner told the team’s website. “He’s played in that many Super Bowls.”
Steve Smith Jr, also commented on the seemingly ageless Brady.
“Athletes can lose explosiveness over the years,” Smith said. “But when everything the shoulder and below slows down, everything shoulder and above has to keep firing like a rookie. And he’s obviously been able to do that.”
New Orleans Saints
• The Saints still await the final verdict on what Drew Brees’ future holds, although many are still expecting him to walk away and move to the broadcast booth next fall. In the meantime, whether he plays or not, reports recently suggested Brees agreed to restructure his contract to save the Saints several million towards the cap in 2021 and beyond.
“Brees original contract had a $36.15 million salary cap charge if he was on the team and a $22.65 million cap charge if he retired.
“By bringing his salary down to the minimum the Saints will be able to hold his salary cap charge at $12.225 million while Brees ultimately decides his own future. If he retires the Saints can then hold him on the roster until June 1 and then place him on the retired list on June 2nd, allowing them to split his $22.65 million in dead money across two years- $11.15 million in 2021 and $11.5 million in 2022.”
• Not everyone is ready to see Brees walk off into the sunset, especially Saints linebacker Demario Davis. Speaking recently on the NFL Network, Davis is hoping Brees comes back at least another year.
“I hope so,” Davis said. “I sure hope so. I would feel much better if I could guarantee that he was. But I guess the only way I could be able to guarantee [a comeback] was if one of y’all said something reckless, like, ‘He’s finished,’ or something, then I could guarantee he’s coming back. But I sure hope so.”
• Talent was never an issue for former Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston. A player doesn’t throw for over 5,000 yards by accident, but 35 turnovers doomed Winston’s future with the Buccaneers.
Saints head coach Sean Payton understands that, but told PFT Live last week there is still a ton to like about Winston.
“Everything from his leadership, his arm strength, his film in Tampa,” Payton said. “His last season, obviously he had a ton of turnovers, but there are so many things I think he does well. Often times, coaches can be guilty of [saying] ‘here’s what he doesn’t do well,’ and we harp on those things. Our job will be to really highlight and try to do the things that our players do extremely well.
“It’s amazing how someone can be in your division and you might think you know the player to some degree and obviously you don’t have the same intimate knowledge relative to personally learning. Then when he’s in your building, maybe how different a guy is. He was a fantastic leader for our team. Very supportive and loyal in that room. I think close with the quarterbacks. Coming in just his first year, I think he endeared himself to his teammates. He’s a tremendous worker and he’s got a ton of talent. He made a great impression on us.”
• Keeping Winston might not be so easy despite Payton’s stated desire to do so. New Orleans will deal with dead cap money if Brees does in fact retire, but also have guaranteed money committed to Taysom Hill as well. With the Saints now over the 2021 cap, finding money to pay Winston might not be easy. Especially if a cap friendly team decides to throw a big contract at Winston.
Payton knows what the Saints are up against.
“Our exposure to Jameis was fantastic,” Payton said on PFT Live. “I know he’s a free agent, but he’s someone I think we’re really excited to work with. Now, that means we’ve got work to do still. I think he feels the same way. I feel pretty good about that.”
Mark Cook currently is the director of editorial content and Bucs beat writer and has written for PewterReport.com since 2011. Cook has followed the Buccaneers since 1977 when he first began watching football with his Dad and is fond of the 1979 Bucs team that came within 10 points of going to a Super Bowl. His favorite Bucs game is still the 1979 divisional playoff win 24-17 over the Eagles. In his spare time Cook enjoys playing guitar, fishing, surfing and family time at the beach. In addition, Cook can be found in front of a television or in Doak Campbell any time the FSU Seminoles are playing. Cook is a native of Pinecrest in Eastern Hillsborough County and has written for numerous publications including the Tampa Tribune, In the Field and Ya'll Magazine. Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org