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?
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• Atlanta’s salary cap situation got a little better this week as quarterback Matt Ryan agreed to a restructured deal that gives the Falcons $14 million in cap relief this season. Ryan was set to count $40.9 million for 2021, but Atlanta reportedly converted $21 million of Ryan’s $23 million salary to a signing bonus. Despite the savings in 2021, Atlanta will still get dinged for Ryan as he will now count over $48.6 million with more than $40.5 million in dead money if the Falcons trade or cut him next offseason.
• Atlanta is reportedly set to lose its starting center Alex Mack to San Francisco in free agency, and a part-time starting member of its offensive line when free agents can officially sign with teams at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday. Guard Justin McCray spent the 2020 season with the Falcons, and played in 10 games with two starts. Prior to coming to Atlanta, McCray was with the Browns and the Packers. McCray will sign a two-year, $4 million deal with the Houston Texans where he will be reunited with his former offensive line coach, James Campen.
North Dakota State QB Trey Lance – Photo by: USA Today
• North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance has been rising up most mock drafts and a team that has an interest is the Falcons, who know they will need to find Ryan’s heir apparent sooner rather than later. Lance had his pro day last Friday and Atlanta was one of several teams in attendance. Both general manager Terry Fontenot and head coach Arthur Smith attended the workout to get a first-hand, in-person look at Lance.
One noted draft pundit was impressed by what he saw from Lance who threw 66 scripted passes during his pro day showcase.
“Nitpick him all you want, but this is a guy who can make some special, special throws,” Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network said following the workout.
“He’d like to have a couple throws back, but this was all about horsepower. When you watch this workout today, you saw him power the football. You saw it from under center, you saw it from play-action, you saw it on the move, but to me, it all came down to once he put his back foot in the ground and that ball jumps. He was able to stretch the field with that power arm. Some touch throws down the field got away from him, particularly to the right side, but … he is dripping with ability.”
• Ryan wasn’t the only Falcons player to help the team out in its quest to become cap compliant. Left tackle Jake Matthews agreed to covert a majority of his 2021 salary into a signing bonus and the move reportedly saved the Falcons $7 million for 2021. Edge rusher Dante Fowler was also asked to take a pay cut to help the team’s cap situation.
I've been told Falcons edge rusher Dante Fowler, who is scheduled to earn a $13 million base salary in 2021, has accepted a pay reduction, which will reduce his scheduled cap figure of $18.541 million. Specifics are not yet official. @TheAthletic
• The Falcons are set to say goodbye to another defensive contributor as the team won’t re-sign safety Damontae Kazee, who tore an Achilles on Oct. 5, ending his 2020 season after only four games. The Falcons will likely be starting two new safeties in 2021 with the release of Ricardo Allen and the decision to decline placing the franchise tag on Keanu Neal.
• A familiar face will return to Atlanta as the Falcons have re-signed exclusive rights free agent kicker Younghoe Koo. In 2020, Koo was 8-of-8 on attempts of at least 50 yards, while also connecting on 33-of-36 extra points. Other exclusive rights free agent players – tight end Jaeden Graham, wide receiver Christian Blake, cornerback Tyler Hall and defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner were also re-signed.
• The Panthers are looking to beef up their offensive line and will sign two new players on Wednesday to protect whoever ends up being under center in 2021. The Panthers reached two-year agreement with former Florida State standout Cameron Erving and guard Pat Elflein. Erving’s deal is reportedly for two years and worth $10 million, while Elflein is set to earn $13.5 million with $6 million guaranteed on his new three-year deal.
Panthers LT Cameron Erving – Photo by: USA Today
• The Falcons weren’t the only NFC South team who wanted to get a look at North Dakota QB Trey Lance. New Panthers GM Scott Fritterer and head coach Matt Rhule both traveled to Fargo to see Lance perform. Carolina is considered a strong favorite to draft a quarterback with the No. 8 overall pick – if they don’t move up – and Lance could fall in their lap according to many mocks.
• The Panthers haven’t hidden their desire to find someone more dynamic than Teddy Bridgewater but Rhule recently said Bridgewater is the Panthers quarterback. But for how long?
The Panthers have been hot on the trail of Deshaun Watson, watching and waiting to see if he might be traded. Rhule has had some frank conversations with his 2020 starter about the business of the NFL.
“Teddy is a tremendous professional, and a tremendous person,” Rhule said as reported on the team website. “So I can’t speak for him, but I think he’s controlling what he can control, he’s having a great offseason, I’m sure. I can’t wait to get him back here. I think he’s determined to play his best football next year.
“I have talked to Teddy. A, he’s someone I like talking to and B, he’s a true professional. I’ve talked to him in terms of life-type stuff and he’s been really good. It’s just honesty. Teddy’s a professional football player. He knows the business, just like all of our guys. Everyone understands the business aspects of it. I want to coach. I don’t want to be involved too much in the business aspect of it. But Teddy’s a true professional. There’s not one part of me that feels like I have to talk to him about stuff like that.”
Not exactly a confidence-builder for Bridgewater moving forward.
• While the organization may be down somewhat on Bridgewater, teammate Christian McCaffrey is a fan.
“Whoever is on our roster, that’s who we’re rolling with. Right now Teddy is our quarterback and I think Teddy can play and he’s a hell of a quarterback, so for us that’s really what we’re rolling with right now,” McCaffrey recently told USA TODAY Sports. “We don’t make those decisions. I’m not in charge of draft boards or free agency, or anything like that. For me it’s focusing on one day at a time, doing the best I can to perform for my teammates and coaches.”
New Orleans Saints
• The NFL’s most anti-climatic retirement was made official this week as legendary Saints QB Drew Brees finally announced what everyone knew was happening – he’s trading his cleats for a blazer and microphone and joining NBC Sports.
Where does that leave the Saints in terms of who is under center when the season kicks off in September?
For now at least, it will be a battle between the gadget, hybrid quarterback Taysom Hill and former Buccaneer Jameis Winston, who signed another one-year deal that could be worth up to $12 million. On Monday, head coach Sean Payton said those two will compete to replace the future Hall of Famer Brees.
Saints QB Drew Brees – Photo by: USA Today
“I think we are (set at QB). I think we are,” Payton told Dan Patrick on his radio show.
“I’ve told both of them, ‘The two of you are gonna compete for this position. They understand it. They’ll come in. We’ve already had a chance to see both of them to some degree.”
• The Saints began the new year as the most over-the-cap team in the league and GM Mickey Loomis has been hard at work to make them compliant before free agency kicks off on Wednesday at 4 p.m. Part of getting there was Hill agreeing to restructure/extend his contract and the move frees up $7.75 million
Reports are that Hill gets $12.159 million he was supposed to earn this year but added four voidable years to his contract and those four years give the Saints $7.75 million in cap relief this season.
Hill wasn’t the only Saints player to redo his deal to help the team.
Sounds like the Saints will restructure LT Terron Armstead's contract to get them close to that salary-cap finish line.
Armstead is heading into the final year of his deal and will eventually be due a big pay day.
• To also help clear cap space the Saints released veteran cornerback Janoris Jenkins and former Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander, in addition to trading defensive tackle Malcolm Brown to the Browns.
• New Orleans will be in the market again this offseason for a receiver to compliment Micheal Thomas, as Emmanuel Sanders will reportedly sign with the Buffalo Bills on Wednesday. Sanders played in 14 games for the Saints last year, notching 61 receptions for 726 yards and five touchdowns.
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
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