Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
A week ago, I suggested the NFC South might not be the free-agent haven a lot of people are expecting. That's shaping up to be the case more than ever today.
Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff pretty much said the Falcons won't be in the mix for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. His reasoning is that the Falcons are committed to building through the draft and don't plan on pursuing big-money free agents. So go ahead and scratch Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers off Atlanta's list as well.
Even though there's a better-than-good chance Atlanta is one of the four teams Peppers' reportedly would like to go to, the Falcons aren't going to pay the price -- a couple of first-round picks and a huge contract.
And don't go thinking the Panthers somehow are going to swoop in and grab Haynesworth to begin rebuilding their defensive line. They've got $17 million in cap space tied up in Peppers' franchise tag and, even if they shed that, they're not going to have a lot of cap room to work with.
We already know New Orleans has virtually no cap room and won't be a major player in free agency. That really leaves only one NFC South destination for the likes of Haynesworth and Peppers.
That's Tampa Bay, where the Bucs are flush with cap room. I suspect the Bucs will make a strong run at Haynesworth. They need help in the middle of their defensive line. Last year's starting tackles were Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan. Haye's scheduled to become a free agent and Hovan wore down dramatically at the end of last season.
My colleague Paul Kukarsky asked Mark Dominik if he was interested in Haynesworth, and the new Bucs GM gave a vague answer.
"I would say in our situation we're happy we just signed Ryan Sims back as a defensive tackle for us and he's going to have a good opportunity in camp," he said.
Haynesworth would make a lot of sense for the Bucs, who likely will be big players in free agency at other positions (mainly wide receiver). But a word of caution to Tampa Bay fans that might be rooting for a Haynesworth/Peppers coup.
Right now, the price tag on Peppers (two first-round draft picks) is too high. Dominik and coach Raheem Morris have a bit of a honeymoon period and it's a safe bet that they'd like to have some draft picks to work with.
If the Panthers are willing to negotiate a bit, you can't rule anything out. But the Bucs need to make their moves one piece at a time. Right now, the signs are saying Haynesworth is the first piece they'll go after.