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?
• Bucs linebacker Shaq Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2019, but a new member of the Falcons isn’t just looking to overtake Barrett as the NFL’s top pass rusher, he wants to top Michael Strahan’s NFL record of 22.5, a mark set in 2001.
Dante Fowler Jr. spoke with the Atlanta media last week and said that was his goal in Atlanta. Fowler signed a three-year, $45 million deal in free agency this year. Fowler, a former No. 3 overall selection by the Jaguars, had a career-best 11.5 sacks in 2019 for the Rams.
The Falcons were in desperate need of pass rushing help after moving on from former first-rounder Vic Beasley this offseason, and also former Bucs defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who signed with the Browns last week.
• Atlanta almost had a bookend pass rusher to go with Fowler, but defensive end Robert Quinn chose the Bears over the Falcons. The way he did it might have been a first – he flipped a coin to decide.
“I really couldn’t make up my mind, so I had to do it the honest way,” Quinn told radio station 670 The Score. “The Bears were on the right side.”
Quinn, like Fowler posted 11.5 sacks in 2019 playing for the Cowboys.
• The Falcons finally announced the signing of running back Todd Gurley on Monday, who was released by the Rams last month. The deal is reportedly a one-year contract for $6 million. While the signing was announced by the team, it isn’t official until a physical is done, but with the COVID-19 pandemic teams have closed the facilities.
• The Falcons lost a number of defensive players this offseason and most feel the team will now look to stock up in the draft with a heavy presence on defense. With the signing of Fowler, the need for a pass rusher isn’t as big of a priority as it was a month ago, and the team could look to replace cornerback Desmond Trufant with Florida’s C.J. Henderson who is being linked to Atlanta more and more in recent mock drafts. Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons and LSU edge rusher K’Lavon Chaisson are also in the mix if you tend to trust mock drafts, but Simmons is considered to be a Top 10 pick by many.
• The Panthers are bragging on their new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, while staying quiet on the thought process beings the release on Cam Newton last month. On a recent conference call with the media, Panthers G.M. Marty Hurney shared his thoughts on Bridgwater.
“I think everybody you talk to, they talked about his leadership skills, and he’s got familiarity with [new offensive coordinator] Joe Brady’s system since Joe was down there in New Orleans with him,” Hurney said. “He’s certainly a guy who’s overcome adversity and has, really if you look at it, he’s won everywhere he’s been, so we thought he’d be a good fit for us.”
When asked about Newton’s release, Hurney was vague.
“You have to make difficult decisions every year, and this was probably one of the most difficult. I mean, I drafted Cam,” Hurney said. “We all know everything he’s brought to the organization, both on and off the field. So it was extremely difficult.”
• While some would say Carolina is in a rebuild mode, it may be more of a transition mode, at least if you ask the organization. Despite losing a number of high-profile players this offseason including linebacker Luke Kuechly, tight end Greg Olsen and a handful of defensive starters, Carolina committed to Bridgewater for three years and $63 million. Now they may be ready to commit a chunk of cash to running back Christian McCaffrey, according to reports. It is almost certain Carolina will exercise the fifth-year option on the former Stanford standout, but according to Hurney, the team may be working on a long-term deal to lock up McCaffrey.
“Obviously, we’ve had internal discussions,” Hurney said as reported by ESPN.com. “Everybody knows what we think of Christian as a player. Other than that I can’t really say any more.”
• Carolina has a number of pressing needs especially on defense, so it is no surprise that most mock drafts have the Panthers focusing on improving that unit in this month’s NFL Draft.
Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown and South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw are two names mentioned by many as potential Panthers. Carolina lost Gerald McCoy, Mario Addison and Vernon Butler leaving the Panthers thin on the defensive line. Brown or Kinlaw would fill big voids.
New Orleans Saints
• Saints star defensive end Cameron Jordan is like a lot of Bucs fans – excited to see Tom Brady in the NFC South as a member of the Buccaneers.
Of course Jordan won’t be cheering for Brady, but instead wants to extend a “welcome” to the six-time Super Bowl champ – and not with a handshake.
“The fact that he’ll be in my division gives me more chances to hit him, hopefully,” Jordan said recently on Sirius XM Radio. “You talk about somebody whose just been known as one of the greatest of all time for all six Super Bowls that he’s won, he’s a winner. And for that to be in my conference, I’m not excited about it. At the same time, I sort of am. I would love to welcome him to the NFC South, which we’ve had the last three years.
“But we know the talent that he has. He has Mike Evans. He has (Chris) Godwin. He has O.J. Howard. They’ve got Bruce Arians now and now you’ve got Tom Brady so it’s just exciting for them to be in our conference.”
• New Orleans has reached a deal to bring back cornerback P.J. Williams. The terms were reported to be one-year, $2 million for the upcoming season.
• The Saints thought they lost cornerback Eli Apple to the Raiders when free agency began last month, but news came out recently that the two did not officially come to an agreement and Apple is available again as a free agent. Apple was a first-round pick in 2016 and was traded to the Saints in 2018.
• COVID-19 has hit Louisiana hard, in particular New Orleans. Last month it was revealed that head coach Sean Payton had contracted the virus but has since recovered, but former Saints kicker Tom Dempsey has passed away from the virus at the age of 73. Dempsey was best known for holding the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal in 1969 that stood for decades.
• Cornerback or wide receiver seems to be the two positions the Saints may look to draft in the first round later this month – at least according to several mock drafts.
Wide receivers Denzel Mims (Baylor) and Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State) are two names that have been popping up frequently as of late if the Saints go offense. Defensively, cornerbacks Clemson’s Trevon Diggs and Virginia’s Bryce Hall have emerged as possible picks for New Orleans.