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?
• As the offseason kept moving forward, it was inevitable that the Falcons would move star wide receiver Julio Jones when they found the right compensation. Over this past weekend they found the right deal, and traded Jones to the Titans. Atlanta got a second-round pick in 2022 and fourth-round pick in 2023. The Titans got Jones and Atlanta’s sixth-round pick in 2023 in the year.
Often a Bucs killer, in 135 career games with the Falcons, Jones recorded 848 receptions for 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns. Now Jones moves to the AFC and one prominent NFC coach, and former offensive coordinator of Jones in Atlanta, couldn’t be happier to see Jones wearing the powder blue of the Titans.
Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“I’m very glad he’s in the AFC,” 49es coach Kyle Shanahan told Matt Maiocco of NBCSportsBayArea.com. “It would’ve been a hell of a deal [to bring him to the 49ers], but my second-favorite choice is him being in the AFC.”
The Rams and Seahawks both had genuine interest in the former Crimson Tide standout.
“No. 1, him not being in our division is a huge deal,” Shanahan said. ““Julio’s the man. Everyone knows how good of a player he is. Tennessee got a hell of a player.”
• Falcons owner Arthur Blank released a statement after the trade was finalized.
“Julio Jones will always be part of the Falcons story, having set numerous records and creating many great memories for all our fans, including me, since the day we drafted him,” Blank said. “He has been a fixture on our team for almost half the time I have owned the Falcons. As we both move in another direction, I’m deeply grateful for what Julio has done for our team and what he has meant to our city and, in my mind, he will always be part of the Falcons family. I wish him nothing but the best in Tennessee and throughout his life.”
• The Jones-less Falcons announced plans to have joint practices with the Dolphins this preseason. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith told the media on Tuesday that the two teams will practice together in Miami this summer. The dates weren’t been shared, but the two teams playing each other in a preseason game on August 21.
• The Panthers traded for Sam Darnold this offseason to replace Teddy Bridgewater, and the NFL schedule makers gave Darnold quite the incentive to be under center in Week 1 as the Panthers will face his former team – the Jets.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity — a good opportunity for this team to go out and prove ourselves against a good opponent,” Darnold said.“For me as a competitor, I’m going to go out there and compete no matter who the opponent is, so that’s kind of my mindset on it.”
New Panthers QB Sam Darnold – Photo by: USA Today
• The league is seeing a number of teams with low attendance during their offseason OTAs, including the Bucs, but that isn’t the case in Carolina.
The Charlotte Observer reported just two players on Carolina’s 90-man roster who weren’t on the practice field last week, wide receiver Robby Anderson and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones.
Wide receiver DJ Moore recently explained why so many of the roster has been attending the OTAs.
“When I was talking to some of the other leaders, like the oldest players on the team, it was like, since we are so young, we might as well just go ahead and go in and get it down and get it done,” Moore said. “Not be all separated throughout the country, we got people that are out, but they’re still in constant communication with us, so it’s all good.”
• Jerney Chinn had an impressive season as a rookie last year for Carolina, finishing second to Chase Young for Rookie of the Year honors. Chinn played linebacker for the Panthers last season but head coach Matt Rhule said recently Chinn would be moved to safety in 2021.
“Obviously he would be a big safety, and he would be able to cover tight ends,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “He can go fit the run, too. It’s rare to have a guy that big, with that size and that intelligence level. He’s one of those guys that can fill a lot of different roles for us.”
New Orleans Saints
• The Saints entered the new league year with the NFL’s biggest salary cap mess but with some cuts, trades and creative accounting, managed to get compliant. But even after all the offseason maneuvering they had to make one final move this week to get their rookies under contract.
New Orleans star cornerback and Bucs nemesis Marshon Lattimore agreed to a restructured deal which freed up enough salary cap space to get their rookie contracts wrapped up. The restructure converted $10.2 million of Lattimore’s fifth-year option to a $990,000 base salary with the rest as a roster bonus with voidable years, and freed up $7.4 million in space.
• Saints head coach Sean Payton contracted COVID-19 last year during the brunt of the pandemic and the state of Louisiana, like most of the country, was hit hard by the virus. Things are better but that hasn’t stopped the organization from making getting vaccinated a priority.
Saints head coach Sean Payton – Photo by: USA Today
Payton told Katherine Terrell of TheAthletic.com. all the Saints’ Tier 1 and Tier 2 employees have been vaccinated.
Tier 1 employees are those who have the close contact with players, like the coaching staff and athletic trainers. Tier 2 employees are those with some close contact with players, such as general managers and football operations staff including the public relations staff. Payton also thinks 85 percent of the players will also be vaccinated by the start of the season.
• Former Bucs QB and now favorite to start for the Saints in 2021, Jameis Winston, recently met with the media and talked about having to sit for a season last year and what it has taught him.
“It’s all about being able to be humble and keep your eyes on the prize,” Winston said in a Tuesday press conference. “I’m staying onward, I’m moving forward in everything that I do. I have to get better every single year, whether it’s a great year or not-so-good year. My seven years (five with the Bucs) — it’s about to be seven years in this league — have been a blessing because I’ve worked my whole life to have the opportunity to be a starting quarterback in this league. One year not playing has just made me even hungrier to get back at the realm and lead a team.”