NFC South Wednesday mailbag

Eder in Harlingen, Texas, writes: I could not help but notice the Bucs gave Jermaine Phillips’ number 23 to rookie Myron Lewis? Is this a sign that they are not going to re-sign Phillips. I myself hope we keep Phillips, I feel Tampa’s backfield was better with Tanard Jackson and Phillips. I feel like Sabby Piscitelli has to develop a lot more. I know the Bucs singed Sean Jones, so what do you think is going to happen with the Bucs backfield?

Pat Yasinskas: I tend to agree with you that the Bucs had decent safeties when Phillips and Jackson were the starters. Then, they messed around with switching Phillips to linebacker last year and that didn’t really work out. I thought Phillips would go back to strong safety and take Piscitelli’s place. But the fact the Bucs signed Sean Jones as a free agent is the main reason Jackson is hanging out there as a free agent apparently not drawing a lot of interest.

Brett in Atlanta writes: The return of Peria Jerry and Harry Douglas from injury are much anticipated but filled with question marks. Can you shed some light on their recovery times?

PY: The Falcons, like a lot of NFL teams, treat injuries like military secrets. Coach Mike Smith and general manager Thomas Dimitroff are especially reluctant to put timetables on injuries, so there is no official word. But sources in Atlanta tell me the “soft’’ target date for Douglas is the start of training camp. The Falcons have been especially guarded with Jerry, but word is he should be able to hit the field some time during the preseason and should be ready for the start of the preseason as long as he has no setbacks.

Nathan in Cary, N.C., writes: I understand the frustration on the part of Carolina fans at not seeing some of the bigger names locked up to long term contracts. However, I do not understand how Richard Marshall has made this list. He is a decent corner, sufficient would be a good word, but he is certainly not a centerpiece to this team. I even thought thatCaptain Munnerlyn outplayed him for a good bit of last season (the AZ game was the best example). I guess my question is, why are people upset that the Panthers have not re-signed a guy who is, at best, a good nickel corner?

PY: To be fair, let’s go with Marshall as a starting corner because he is one. Next, let’s rank him as a player and I think the logical answer is decent. He’s got a second-round tender on him as a restricted free agent and will make about $1 million this year if he plays for the tender. But Marshall’s made some noise about wanting a long-term deal and I’m not sure that’s the best tact to take in this situation. First off, as Nathan says, Marshall’s not exactly a cornerstone of the team, so it’s not like holding out would give him tremendous leverage over the Panthers. Second, maybe Marshall hasn’t been paying attention, but owner Jerry Richardson, concerned about the labor situation, isn’t giving out big contracts to anyone.

Rob in Fort Mill, S.C., writes: Per your Tuesday mailbag, "He’s not paying people like Marshall or Williams big money now because he doesn’t want to give big signing bonuses as he prepares his franchise for the possibility of a lockout. " If he doesn't have to pay the players during the lockout, how can that be a reason for not signing new contracts to core players?

PY: Because the way contracts are done is so they usually have a large chunk of the money up front in the form of a signing bonus. Richardson would have to lay out money now. That’s money he’s conserving or avoiding going into debt to get. He’s saving what he’s got and hoping that’s enough for the Panthers to weather the storm of a possible lockout.

Nate in Palmer, Alaska, writes: I do believe Ronde Barber one day he will be in the HOF. The only thing Ronde is lacking compared to a guy like Deion Sanders who is almost guaranteed the HOF is some height (4 inches)and a big mouth. Barber unfortunately had the luck of playing for a semi-sour Bucs squad for a lot of his years, a lack of playoffs and, National media coverage. I don't believe he is 1st ballot HOF but I believe in looking at him as a player and person in the NFL, he has the HOF stats, he's played hard, he's a classy guy, and he is a positive representation of the NFL. Maybe that isn't what gets a person to the HOF though.

PY: All valid points. Ronde got some national exposure back when his twin brother, Tiki, still was playing. He also got plenty of attention when the Bucs were good. But the Bucs weren’t all that good when Barber first joined them and it took him a few seasons to make a real impact. He then went into a very productive stretch that forms the basis of his argument to be a Hall of Fame candidate. The problem I see there was the Bucs won only one championship and a lot of people view Barber as a system player, who benefited from playing Tampa Two in Monte Kiffin’s scheme with Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch there to help him look good. I respect Barber’s durability, but 3-13 seasons with no interceptions aren’t the best way to put the final touches on your résumé.