Behind Enemy Lines is a weekly look at Tampa Bay’s NFC South foes every Wednesday. Let’s spy on the Bucs’ division rivals, shall we?

Atlanta Falcons

• When the 2021 season kicks off in September, long-time star Falcons WR Julio Jones will likely be in a different uniform. What new colors will he be wearing? That question is still up in the air, but if Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown has his way it will be the powder blue of Tennessee.

Brown took to Instagram this week with a plea to Jones.

Brown joined his Titans’ teammate Derrick Henry in trying to recruit Jones to Nashville.

• While it appears Jones is on his way out of Atlanta, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith didn’t want to discuss it publicly this week.

“[Players] should speak for themselves,” Smith said. “I’m not going to comment, it doesn’t change anything for us. We understand what our plan is moving forward. We have multiple private conversations with our players and those are conversations that are going to stay private on my end.”

• What will the Falcons get in return for Jones if they unload him and his guaranteed $15.3 million salary? PFT.com reported that the Falcons could have gotten a second round draft pick prior to the draft, but declined to hold out for more compensation.

• It seems the Falcons are preparing for life without Jones, as evidenced by their first-round selection of Florida superstar tight end Kyle Pitts in last month’s NFL Draft. Now the Falcons have added a veteran receiver to their group, signing Tajae Sharpe who played for Smith in Tennessee. Sharpe recorded 92 receptions for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns while playing in 47 games for the Titans between 2016 and 2019.

• Falcons QB Matt Ryan is a fan of change. Gone are long-time GM Thomas Dimitroff along with head coach Dan Quinn and his staff, who were fired when owner Arthur Blank cleaned house after a disappointing 4-12 2020 season.

Ryan said change is sometimes good.

“There’s a natural level of excitement that comes from it being different,” Ryan said. “And I love Dan and I love Thomas, have so much respect for those guys, and I learned a ton from them. And I think that’s going to serve me better moving forward with a new staff. But there is excitement. It’s a little different. There’s a different energy, a level of wanting to prove yourself, show what you can do, all of that stuff is there. I think it makes it exciting, keeps it fresh for a guy in year 14. It certainly provides plenty of motivation and gives you the energy to get out of bed and get moving.”

Carolina Panthers

• The Panthers think they have found their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold who they traded for prior to last month’s NFL Draft. Being the overall No. 3 pick three seasons ago in the NFL’s largest market created lofty expectations. But Darnold recently told the Panthers’ website, he still has pressure to perform even after escaping New York.

“It depends on how you see it,” Darnold said. “I’ve always had high expectations for myself, first and foremost. Expectations outside of that, to be honest, besides my teammates and my coaches, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. I think for me, it’s about what we expect as a team, what we expect to win, and for me, it’s about completing the ball and getting the team down the field and scoring touchdowns. That’s all I care about. As long as we do that and I do my job, we’re all good.”

Count Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey as a big fan of Darnold.

QB former Jets Sam Darnold Falcons

New Panthers QB Sam Darnold – Photo by: USA Today

“I’ve gotten to know him really well in the last few months,” McCaffrey said. “Just getting together throwing with him and hanging out off the field. He’s an incredible talent and incredible teammate already, so I’m super excited for him. I think he’ll fit in great. Already fits in great.”

McCaffrey went on to talk more about the new man under center for the Panthers.

“He’s very laid back, but he’s definitely a leader too,” McCaffrey said. “And he knows when to put his foot down when he needs to and be a leader when he needs to. I think that’s something that makes all quarterbacks great.

“Just demanding attention to detail, demanding a sharp practice, demanding a sense of urgency. That all starts with every individual, but the quarterback touches the ball every play. So if he shows it, then everybody else will rally behind it.”

• Carolina began their offseason workouts with OTAs recently, and a couple of high-profile players were seen wearing red, no-contact jerseys. Safety Jeremy Chinn and pass rusher Brian Burns, both had offseason clean-up procedures according to reports. Chinn had a procedure on his knee while Burns had offseason shoulder surgery. Neither was reported as serious and the fact that both were able to be on the field for OTAs is a good sign they will be 100 percent heading into training camp.

• The NFL is hoping for a return to full-capacity stadiums this fall after a disastrous 2020 year that saw mostly empty venues that significantly hurt revenue for teams and the league. The Panthers have already announced what their 2021 season will look like in terms of fans in the stands.

Tom Glick, president of Tepper Sport & Entertainment, recently said that all home games, including the preseason contests, will be open for full capacity with no masks or vaccinations required.

“We’ve been looking ahead to this day and looking ahead to the season for many weeks, preparing to be in this position,” Glick said as reported by the Charlotte Observer. “The change to the state guidelines just confirmed for us, along with our ongoing consultation with local and state partners, with our local health partners, Atrium Health, that this is the right decision for us to be making as we go forward.”

New Orleans Saints

• Who will replace Drew Brees under center and start at quarterback for the Saints in 2021? DraftKings leans toward former Bucs QB Jameis Winston, who is listed as the favorite at -200. Last year’s second string quarterback Taysom Hill is listed at +145 and rookie Ian Book at +3300.

Head coach Sean Payton spoke about the race to succeed Brees earlier this month.

“[Hill] knows and so does Jameis that we’re looking to find a guy that’s going to lead our team this year,” Payton said. “And that doesn’t mean the other guy is not going to have a role. But certainly, it varies. If Jameis is starting, obviously Taysom has a role that expands not only just offensively, but on special teams, etc. And if it’s the other way around, it’s probably a little bit more limited just relative to what Jameis would do.”

Saints head coach Sean Payton

Saints head coach Sean Payton – Photo by: USA Today

• Mickey Loomis has seen a lot since 2002 when he became the Saints GM. One of the near constants was No.9 under center on Sundays. Brees joined the team in 2005  and led the Saints to the only Super Bowl win in franchise history in 2010.

But this year will be much different with Brees now in the TV booth and a quarterback battle brewing in New Orleans. Loomis said, while different, it’s exciting.

“Obviously, Drew not being with us is pretty significant. We’ve had a good 15 years,” Loomis said at the team’s golf event on Monday. “Man, it’s been spectacular having him lead our team. And so it’s a different feel, certainly, but it’s exciting as well.”

• Like the Panthers, the Saints are looking forward to a 2021 season with a stadium at full capacity.

“I 100 percent expect full attendance, and everyone rockin’ and rollin’ and cheering our team on to victory. Absolutely,” Saints President Dennis Lauscha told the team’s website.

Lauscha is encouraging Saints fans to get vaccinated.

“Obviously, it’s really important,” Lauscha said. “We’ve got to get these vaccinations to get to herd immunity, at least community immunity, or get us to a comfortable place. As much as we can do to encourage vaccinations, we’ll continue to do it. It’s one of our No. 1 priorities.”

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About the Author: Mark Cook

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 mark@pewterreport.com
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Horse
24 days ago

I still not Rogers will stay in GB and the Saints will be where he is going. Saints can’t survive with their QB’s because the only thing consistent with those guys is the they are consistent in not being consistent!

toofamiliar17
Reply to  Horse
23 days ago

The cap obviously CAN be manipulated, but with the roster gutting the Saints just had to go through due to their past accounting choices, I’d be surprised if they decided to bring Rodgers in to pay him his money. They currently have the least amount of cap space in the league – roughly $77,000. His cap number wouldn’t be nuts for them (about $16M, I think, from what I see), as much of his 2021 cap hit is from bonuses the Packers already paid out to him and which would count against GB’s cap if they trade him. But that’s… Read more »

drdneast
23 days ago

Would tickle me to death if Jones went to Titans and we didn’t have to see him twice a year although lately he has been consistently injured. For that reason and also his age and salary, I doubt if the Falcons get offered more than a second round pick for him.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
23 days ago

Yea, I get why some (i.e. our own beloved Jon Ledyard) think that a first rounder for Julio is a no brainer – and maybe for the Packers specifically it should be, if acquiring him would placate Rodgers and bring him back into the fold – but for most teams, a 1st rounder for a 32 year old stud WR coming off a season with a rough ankle injury and almost $40M due to him over the next three seasons is a high price to pay. IF I was the Packers, and the combo of acquiring Julio and offering ARod… Read more »

drdneast
23 days ago

Grabbing Brady in FA will be looked at as one of the great steals in league history in years to come.

Runole
Reply to  drdneast
23 days ago

Agree, and the repercussions for other veteran QB’s is being felt throughout the NFL.

toofamiliar17
Reply to  drdneast
22 days ago

The biggest reason I was opposed to signing Brady was because I thought it was clear he’d only be here for two years, and punting on a long term plan for just two seasons of contention seemed foolish to me. It was always clear to most people that he could still play at a reasonably high level, although the speed with which he adapted to our offense did surprise me a bit. My issue was always the timetable. I actually said somewhere on this board that I’d rather go with someone else at QB than go with Brady if we… Read more »

Last edited 22 days ago by toofamiliar17
gcolerick
Reply to  toofamiliar17
22 days ago

Can’t believe you said that. Before last year this team brought home one Lombardi Trophy since its 1976 existence and you don’t think signing Brady is a good move unless he leads us to two SuperBowl wins.
12 teams have never won a Super Bowl. Ask the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Chargers, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars what they’d be will to give up for just one and then you can go out and pick a Lombardi Trophy off of that Super Bowl Tree growing in your backyard.

Runole
23 days ago

What happens if Atlanta decides not to trade him because the deals offered stink?

plopes808
23 days ago

The division is in shambles…all we need at this point is to stay healthy.

lambeau
21 days ago

“That question is still up in the air”–thanks for the insight, Mark.