Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Tuesday morning. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?
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• Once an important catalyst that helped the Falcons reach the Super Bowl three years ago, running back Devonta Freeman’s time in Atlanta is likely coming to an end. Freeman signed a new contract prior to the 2018 season, but injuries have taken a toll and the former Seminoles star has played in just 16 games over the last two seasons, rushing for 724 yards and two touchdowns and with 433 receiving yards. Freeman is set to count $9.5 million against the cap this year, and with the Falcons struggling with a bit of a budget crunch this offseason, look for Freeman to be released before the new league year begins on March 18.
• Other potential Falcons cuts include tackle Ty Sambrilo, defensive lineman Allen Bailey, former Bucs tight end Luke Stocker, and there are even some rumblings about center Alex Mack and his $8 million cap value being scrutinized as a possibility to be cut or traded.
• The Falcons have 23 players scheduled to be free agents in 2020 and that list includes tight end Austin Hooper, running back Kenjon Barner, wide receiver Justin Hardy, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and punter Matt Bosher among them. The Falcons have needs at numerous positions, and particularly desperate for pass rush help, but with limited cap space, it will be difficult for Atlanta to retain many of its own players – much less add a splash signing that could bolster the team’s anemic pass rush (28 sacks in 2019).
• With a need to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, the majority of the mocks drafts have the Falcons taking an edge rusher. One of the names that keeps popping up is LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson if he falls to the Falcons. Alabama pass rusher Terrell Lewis’ name has also been one to note, as has South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.
• There hasn’t been a decision made on the future of Cam Newton in Carolina as of yet. However, NFL Network’s Ian Rapport said on Monday that inside sources believe that Newton’s foot that required surgery would be in good enough shape for him to resume some type of football activity by next month. Should he pass a physical in March, a healthy Newton could open up the door for the team to look at potential trade scenarios, and Rapport mentioned the Buccaneers as a possibly suitor for Newton’s services if the Buccaneers do move on from Jameis Winston. Newton is scheduled to count $21 million against the cap in 2020.
• Reports suggest the Panthers see the future of the team in a more extensive rebuild mode than previously thought when the team hired Baylor head coach Matt Rhule to replace Ron Rivera. Since that time the team has parted ways with tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Luke Kuechly has retired. With an offensive-minded coach in Rhule, and one of the most dynamic assistant college coaches in LSU’s Joe Brady on board as offensive coordinator, finding the right player under center appears to be the team’s highest priority.
However with the seventh overall pick, Carolina would possibly need to move up a few spots to guarantee getting one of the top three prospects in April’s NFL Draft. LSU’s Joe Burrow is all but certain to be drafted No. 1 overall, and both Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert could also both be gone.
• The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak’s had a recent interesting draft day scenario that featured the Panthers’ possible need at quarterback. Solak had the Panthers giving up their next two No. 1 picks, plus a second-rounder this year and a second-rounder in 2022, in addition to a fourth-rounder in 2021 in order to receiver the Lions’ No. 1 pick this season where they would select Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa. That seems like an awful lot for a QB coming off two ankle surgeries and a hip surgery. The Panthers might be better off trying to package some picks and Newton to send to Cincinnati for the No. 1 overall pick and the chance to reunite Burrow and Brady.
• The Panthers are in rebuild mode and the number of free agents the team currently has may not be as concerning as some other teams around the league. Does it make sense to pay cornerback James Bradberry $15 million a season when the Panthers know they are looking down the road a year or two before legitimately competing for an NFC South title again? The same goes for their other free agents including defensive end Mario Addison, safety Tre Boston, and defensive tackles Vernon Butler and Gerald McCoy.
New Orleans Saints
• Drew Brees just made the decision to play one more season in New Orleans. That means that backup quarterback Teddy Bridewater will move on. Bridgewater will be not just be looking for a starting job – but also a big payday. A report recently suggested that Bridgewater could command as much as $30 million once free agency opens on March 18. That number seems quite inflated, as the former Vikings No. 1 pick has started just six games over the last three seasons. Granted he won all five of those games in 2019, but did it averaging only 153 passing yards in those victories. Would a team really offer Bridgewater $30 million? ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler thinks so.
While NFC South rival Tampa Bay may have some interest in Bridgewater, it likely wouldn’t be in that price range.
• The Saints also have a long list of players slated to become unrestricted free agents (18) next month including the above mentioned Brees and Bridgewater. But the list also includes key contributors like linebacker A.J. Klein, safety Vonn Bell and cornerback Eli Apple, a former first-round pick of the New York Giants, among others. With just under $10 million in available cap room, Saints G.M. Micky Loomis will have to get creative to keep some core players and address the quarterback position.
Brees will return one more year, but he will need to agree to terms on a new one-year contract. While Brees could easily fetch a deal in the $30 million range, although knowing the the Saints’ cap quandary, perhaps he takes less money to help ease the burden.
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, the beach and family time.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