Around the NFC South

Let’s take a look at some notes and headlines from around the NFC South.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have kept alive their streak of not giving a single signing bonus in this free-agency period. According to contract details obtained by ESPN.com, defensive tackle Amobi Okoye signed a one-year deal and is scheduled to earn $1.8 million ($700,000 of it guaranteed) in base salary. Okoye also can pick up an extra $200,000 for taking part in the majority of the team’s offseason workouts. Okoye didn’t receive a signing bonus. Neither did free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright. Neither did cornerback Ronde Barber when he re-signed with the team. This is a pretty unique approach by the Bucs, and it doesn’t seem to have prevented them from landing free agents. While other teams are offering big signing bonuses to spread out pro-rated salary cap hits over the life of the contract, the Bucs are stepping up and putting big base salaries in the first year or two of their deals.

In this radio interview, New Orleans safety Malcolm Jenkins says he has confidence the rest of the coaching staff can handle the team in the absence of coach Sean Payton. But Jenkins also said it’s up to the players to step up and take on more of a leadership role. Get ready to hear a lot more along these same lines. It’s already becoming clear the Saints are planning to use their adversity as motivation.

Bradley Handwerger writes that the Saints sent a very clear message that this is still Payton’s team by announcing assistant head coach Joe Vitt will take over as interim head coach. Vitt has been Payton’s top assistant since they arrived together in New Orleans. Vitt isn’t likely to change much of anything, and Payton’s system will remain intact while he serves a season-long suspension.

The Buccaneers had USC offensive tackle Matt Kalil in for a visit this month. Don’t get too excited, because the Bucs simply are doing their homework. Most speculation has had Kalil going before the Bucs pick at No. 5. But there’s been some growing speculation Kalil could slip a bit. If LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne and Alabama running back Trent Richardson go before Tampa Bay picks, it’s at least possible the Bucs could take Kalil. They appear to be set with Donald Penn at left tackle. But right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is heading into the last year of his contract, and is the biggest question mark on the offensive line. The Bucs have been investing a lot in their offensive line. I wouldn’t totally rule out the possibility of them taking Kalil if he falls to them.

Check out this inspirational story to find out what former Carolina defensive back Reggie Howard is doing in his post-football life.

The Panthers officially announced the re-signing of linebacker Jordan Senn. He played well last season after the Panthers had a bunch of injuries at linebacker, and coach Ron Rivera said Senn would have a shot at a starting job this season. But the Panthers didn’t pay Senn anything close to starter money. According to contract details obtained by ESPN.com, Senn will make $700,000 in base salary on his one-year deal. The Panthers again took advantage of the veteran minimum salary benefit. That means Senn’s base salary will count only $540,000 against the salary cap. He also got a $65,000 signing bonus, and his total cap figure will be $605,000.

Former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp spoke out for the first time since news of his bankruptcy filing broke. Sapp said a bad investment in the construction business started his financial troubles. He said he didn’t want to file bankruptcy, but his only other option was going to jail. Sapp said he doesn’t know if he’ll remain with NFL Network, but pledged to work his way through his problems.