Around the NFC South

Not all of this morning’s headlines around the NFC South are about the Saints and their bounty program, but most of them are. Let’s take a look.

Jeff Duncan writes that it’s time for Saints owner Tom Benson to step out of the background and start making some important decisions, starting with making sure quarterback Drew Brees signs a long-term contract very soon. I agree totally and wrote something pretty similar the other day. Benson also needs to decide who will replace coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis during their suspensions. Benson’s been a hands-off owner, at least when it comes to football operations. It’s time for that to change. Someone has to seize control of this situation and start the healing process. That’s got to be Benson.

Brian Billick wonders if Payton, who will be suspended for one year, might be gone from the Saints for good. It’s a legitimate question. Billick says Benson could dismiss Payton “for cause."

Josh Johnson, who had been the backup quarterback for Tampa Bay, has signed with the San Francisco 49ers. No big surprise there. The Bucs didn’t want Johnson back and had already signed Dan Orlovsky to take over as Josh Freeman’s backup. Johnson played for San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh when the two were together at the University of San Diego. Johnson will go in as the backup to Alex Smith, who is coming off a solid season, so it’s not like Johnson has a chance to compete for a starting job.

Former New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter has agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos. Porter had a key interception in the Saints’ Super Bowl victory, but gradually became expendable as the Saints drafted Patrick Robinson and Johnny Patrick in back-to-back years.

Steve Spagnuolo, Pete Carmichael and Aaron Kromer are reportedly the three in-house candidates to fill in for Payton during his one-year suspension. Those are the same three names I speculated on the other day and it didn’t take a great deal of time to come up with that list. It’s pretty obvious those are the three best-qualified candidates on the current staff. Defensive coordinator Spagnuolo has been a head coach before in St. Louis. Offensive coordinator Carmichael is very close to Brees, who carries plenty of clout in the organization. Offensive line coach Kromer is a rising star and his name was tied to several head-coaching openings this offseason.

John Manasso writes that the Falcons stand to benefit from the Saints’ punishments. That’s very true. But, to varying degrees, I think you can say the same of the Panthers and Buccaneers.

Clemson defensive tackle Brandon Thompson said he has a pre-draft interview scheduled with the Falcons. Makes a lot of sense because Jonathan Babineaux is coming off an unproductive season and Peria Jerry has never been able to fully bounce back from the major knee injury he suffered as a rookie.

LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, who has been tied to the Buccaneers as a possibility at the No. 5 pick, revealed at his pro day that he will have surgery to repair ligament damage in his wrist on Friday. I don’t think that’s going to hurt Claiborne’s draft stock. I also think he helped his stock by running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds.