Hitting the NFC South hot spots

With the Super Bowl over, it’s time to reach into the mailbag and see what’s on your mind.

Ian in New Orleans asks about the possibility of the Saints and Packers playing in the 2011 regular-season opener.

Pat Yasinskas: It certainly would be intriguing to pair the past two Super Bowl champions in a Thursday night game at Lambeau Field. In ordinary circumstances, I think it would be a strong possibility. It still might be, even in the unique circumstances the NFL is facing right now. There’s talk of an 18-game season, and that might lead to some creative scheduling. We’ll have to wait to see, but your idea makes sense.

Ron in High Point, N.C. asks how much it would cost the Panthers to place the franchise tag on running back DeAngelo Williams, and if such a move is likely.

Pat Yasinskas: Well, let’s start with the easy part and give you a ball-park figure on the cost of using the franchise tag on a running back. In 2010, it was $8.2 million. My guess is the number would go up slightly in 2011. Now, here’s where it gets complicated. As you know, there’s no labor agreement for 2011. There also appears to be a brewing dispute over whether the franchise tag can be used before a labor agreement is in place. The league is saying it can use the franchise tag. The NFL Players Association says teams cannot use the franchise tag at the current time. My guess on Williams is that the Panthers will try to sign him to a long-term contract as soon as a labor agreement is in place. I know they’ve got Jonathan Stewart and Mike Goodson. But you can’t have enough good running backs, and durability has been an issue for Stewart.

Dana in Beverly Hills, Fla. asks if there has been any talk of the Falcons drafting running back Mark Ingram.

Pat Yasinskas: Like all other teams, the Falcons are just getting seriously into the process of preparing for the draft, and player rankings will be sorted out more with the combine and individual workouts. The early stuff I’m seeing has Ingram going before the Falcons pick at No. 27. But, if he somehow lasts to that point, I think it’s something the Falcons would have to consider. Yes, they might have more glaring needs (defensive end, perhaps), but, as I said in the above question about Carolina, it’s important to have several quality running backs. Michael Turner certainly is a good one, but he’s had a ton of carries the past few years. Jason Snelling is a solid backup, and I don’t anticipate Jerious Norwood staying with Atlanta. I wouldn’t mind seeing Ingram landing with the Falcons.

Joseph in Tallil, Iraq asks about the possibility of the Buccaneers pursuing New England guard Logan Mankins in free agency.

Pat Yasinskas: Well, until there actually is a free-agency period, all we can do is speculate about what might happen, and the possibility of Mankins with the Bucs comes up from a lot of readers. Let’s assume he makes it to free agency. The Bucs certainly are going to have plenty of salary-cap room to work with, and a good offensive line is essential. They have their own potential free-agent guard in Davin Joseph and I think they want to keep him. Can you really afford to invest a fortune in two guards? When they’re standing in front of franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, I’m all for it. Put those two guys with left tackle Donald Penn and sprinkle in some of the young talent Tampa Bay has and the Bucs could have a stellar offensive line. Be safe over there, and thanks for all you do.