NFC South mailbag

I’m going to take a quick dive into the mailbag and hope I can get through a round before we get the announcement on the 2014 Super Bowl. Here goes:

Rodney in Orlando writes: A while back, you felt that Mark Brunell would eventually return to the Saints to be the backup to Drew Brees. Do you still believe that is the case or will he get snatched up by the Jets in July? Everything I read says that Rex Ryan really likes Brunell and his mentor potential for Mark Sanchez.

Pat Yasinskas: You couldn’t ask for a better mentor or backup than Brunell. Yes, the word is the Jets have interest. But I still think a return to New Orleans is possible. Brunell fit in well with the Saints and is highly regarded by the team. I think the Saints would be wise to develop one of their young quarterbacks, but I think they need to have a backup with some experience on their roster this season. Hope nothing happens to Brees. But, if he were to go down, this is too talented a team to go with a quarterback with no experience.

Mike in Glen Cove, N.Y., writes: I was just wondering if the Falcons are going to open up the playbook for Matt Ryan this year? It looked they were a little conservative last year by rarely going deep which may have had an effect on his growth as a passer leading to some people thinking he had a sophomore slump.

PY: I suspect the Falcons will open things up for Ryan considerably this season. I agree that they seemed conservative last season, but there were reasons for that. I can’t emphasize enough how much the preseason injury to Harry Douglas impacted Atlanta’s offense. There were big plans to use him heavily as a slot receiver and that also would have freed up Roddy White and Michael Jenkins. With Michael Turner also banged up for much of the season, it seemed like Ryan went to his comfort zone, which was tight end Tony Gonzalez. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. But I think having a healthy Douglas and a healthy Turner in the lineup will allow the Falcons to open things up.

Perry in High Point, N.C., writes: I read this morning where the Falcons are trying to wangle a new stadium? Shouldn't they at least have the decency to wait until the paint in dry on the one they are in now before doing that? Can you say George Shinn, I'm sure you remember him from Charlotte.

PY: Yep, I’ve seen Shinn and lots of other owners try to get new arenas or new stadiums and it isn’t always pretty. But that’s become part of the landscape of professional sports. The bottom line is revenue generation and a new stadium would come with lots of luxury boxes and other ways to make money. Falcons owner Arthur Blank has been very open with his fan base about why he wants a new stadium and how that’s important to keep the team competitive. Should be interesting to see how this plays out if the NFL’s labor issues don’t get resolved. But I give Blank credit for trying to be progressive and I haven’t heard him come close to threatening a move of the team.

Glenn in Winston-Salem, N.C., writes: If the owners aren't obligated to pay the salaries of the players then why is Jerry Richardson not giving out big contracts because of his fear of the lockout?

PY: Kind of like Blank, Richardson is being progressive. He’s bracing his franchise for a lockout in 2011. Part of his plan is to conserve money in 2010. If he were to give out a whole bunch of big contracts now, he immediately would be paying signing bonuses. Apparently, he’d rather have that money in the bank -- or not go into debt -- as he prepares his franchise to weather a lockout.

Alex in Rochester, N.Y., writes: If there's a lockout in 2011, can the owners whip up a scrub roster and make an abridged season ala the 1987 strike season?

PY: I honestly don’t know for certain on that one. But I’ll start looking into it because it sure sounds like the labor situation will be an issue for quite some time.