NFC South Report - July Edition

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Let's take a look around the rest of the NFC South to see what's hot with our sister franchises.

In the A-T-L they are gearing up for an appearance on HBO's Hard Knocks:

Atlanta Falcons' 'Hard Knocks' official trailer released - NFL.com
With camp comes HBO's fantastic Hard Knocks series. This season we get an inside look at the Atlanta Falcons with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the ever-entertaining Roddy White. Less than a month before the first show, HBO released the official trailer for the series on its Facebook page. As far as teasers of men in practice gear go, it's captivating.

Over on the Falcoholic they are guestimating what the remainder of Matt Ryan's career light look like:

Knowing what we know now, what does the rest of Matt Ryan's career look like? - The Falcoholic

For whatever reason, Ryan's critics love to pick on him. They see him as a second tier quarterback who can't get over the playoff hump. They criticize him for his lack of elite arm strength. They openly question his mean streak. All in all, he gets a lot of flack, mainly because he isn't Tom Brady. Look, can Ryan be better? Sure. Is his footwork occasionally questionable? Absolutely. Does Dave's liver look like a diseased mushroom? You bet. My best guess? Ryan lives just outside the top tier for the majority of the rest of his career.

I'm thinking the critics know what they are talking about because I agree with the majority of that assessment though I'm not too sure who Dave is or how his liver got in bad shape.

For Falcon TE Tony Gonzales has weighed in on the Saints Jimmy Graham contract impasse:

Tony Gonzalez claims 'discrimination' against tight ends such as Jimmy Graham | NOLA.com
"In the three seasons leading up to the negotiations, I put up unprecedented numbers that weren't comparable to any other tight end in the league at the time," Gonzalez wrote. "My agent ... tried to get me paid like a wide receiver -- or according to what my production had been. The Chiefs' GM at the time was Carl Peterson, and his battle cry during the lengthy negotiation was, 'you're not a receiver so I can't pay you like one.'

I think I actually agree with Gonzo and Graham for that matter. This provides a nice segue to Canal Street where they wait anxiously to see if Graham will sign a new deal by the July 15th deadline:

Will Jimmy Graham Sign a Long-Term Contract or Play Under the Franchise Tag in 2014? - Canal Street Chronicles
The true answer to your question is that I have no idea what the hell is going to happen. That being said, I've got an opinion of course. Sitting out an entire season just seems stupid and no team is interested in trading two first round picks for him. Both of those options don't seem realistic to me. The Saints can tag Graham for two straight years as per the CBA so he'd have to wait until 2016 before getting a long-term deal from another team. That's a long time to play in the NFL with no protection in the event of injury. Not the ideal situation for him or any NFL player. All of this means the Saints are in the driver's seat now so I still fully expect Graham to just sign a long-term deal in the $9.5 to $10 million per year range before the fast-approaching July 15th deadline. It's not like being the highest paid tight end in NFL history is the worst thing in the world. My guess would be that the holdup now isn't so much the total value of the contract but the length or how much of it is guaranteed.

Hat tip to CSC for scoring a Q&A with no other than QB Drew Brees. Here's one question and answer pertinent to the rest of the NFC South:

Drew Brees Hopeful Jimmy Graham and Saints Will Reach Long Term Deal Soon - Canal Street Chronicles
CSC: The last question is a question that is something that is in the back of everybody's head: so after this season, how long do you plan to play football Drew? Looks you could have a future in TV?

DB: You know what, I'm going to play football as long as I can, as long as I'm healthy and I play at a high level and I'm enjoying myself. I don't know why I wouldn't play as long as I possibly could. But I'm just going to take it one year at a time and just enjoy the moment, just understand that every year provides such a great challenge and so, you certainly can't look too far ahead but I'm excited about this year and I'm 35 years old this will be my fourteenth season and let's see how many more we can put together.

I'm not going to openly hope he retires soon; I'll just hope he is past his prime and on the downward slope.

A less rosy topic in New Orleans is the topic of RB Mark Ingram, who ha hardly been worth what the Saints gave up to move up and draft him:

Why It's Tough to Get Excited about Mark Ingram - Canal Street Chronicles
In the 2011 NFL draft, the New Orleans Saints gave up a second-round pick and a 2012 first-rounder to trade up to 28th overall in order to select Ingram. Draft pundits praised the pick, and Saints fans felt they were getting rare talent at the running back position in the Big Easy. So far, that hasn't been the case.

If Ingram was going to rise to the elite level it would have happened already. He's a bust, mark it down now.

Moving down to Tampa we find more impact from the Jimmy Graham saga as the Bucs admitted in court they drafted S Mark Barron specifically to stop Graham. Barron has played fairly well though he has had mixed results in limited action against Graham:

Buccaneers drafted Mark Barron to stop Jimmy Graham - Bucs Nation
When the Bucs picked Barron they did so after trading down two spots and passing up the opportunity to draft Morris Claiborne, which seems like a good decision now. They also passed up drafting Luke Kuechly, who has turned into an outstanding player for the Carolina Panthers but wouldn't really have filled a need for the Bucs at the time.

Instead, they took a long-armed safety out of Alabama who had rarely been projected to go in the top 10. Still, Barron's been a solid performer in his career so far and has the makings of a future Pro Bowler, so it's a little harsh to call this a bad selection. While Pro Football Talk claims drafting Barron to stop Graham didn't exactly work because the Saints are 4-0 in games against Mark Barron, that's not completely accurate. Mark Baron and Jimmy Graham only faced each other twice, with Barron missing last year's week 17 contest, while Graham missed the game in Tampa the year before.

I find this passage loaded with irony given Kuechly has had way more success stopping Graham than Barron. If given the opportunity now to trade Barron for Kuechly straight up how many Bucs fans would answer honestly?

Moving to the other side of the ball Bucs fans think they might have a OROY in WR Mike Evans:

Mike Evans for Offensive Rookie of the Year - Bucs Nation
Evans is one of the main contenders for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and Dan Rubenstein thinks he's a pretty good bet at +600. Minor confession: I don't have a clue what "+600" means. Your American betting terms confuse and frighten me.

I wrote about this before, though. I noted that wide receivers almost never win this award, and that even top 10 draft picks at receiver average just 500 receiving yards in their rookie seasons. It's just not a good position to make an impact as a rookie, nor to win that award.

Evans will be a good stick for which to measure Kelvin Benjamin's rookie impact. I think he could actually outperform Evans given Evans has Vincent Jackson across from him garnering #1 WR status.

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