Let's take a look at some of the top headlines from around the division.
The Falcons are without a first-round draft pick. That means you can expect plenty of criticism of last year’s trade to move up and get receiver Julio Jones between now and the draft. It’s understandable, as the Falcons are sitting there with needs on the offensive and defensive lines, and needs for depth in other areas. But I can’t say the trade to get Jones was a mistake. He showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, and could end up being one of the league’s top receivers. No doubt the cost was high, but it’s too early in Jones’ career to say the Falcons gave up too much to get him.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has said he expects major improvement over a debut season in which he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Head over to SportsNation to vote on how much you think Newton will improve.
Jordan Gross’ high school in Idaho will get some new weight-room equipment, courtesy of the Carolina offensive tackle.
Here’s a list of five first-round draft prospects for the Panthers. I’d add Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Boston college linebacker Luke Kuechly to that list. I’d also scratch Stanford guard David DeCastro from that list. He’s a great prospect, but I can’t see the Panthers using a top-10 pick on a guard.
There’s been wide-spread speculation that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will face a suspension when the NFL hands out player punishments for the Saints’ bounty program. Although the league has said anywhere from 22 to 27 players were involved in a three-season span, there hasn’t been much speculation about which other players could face suspensions. Until now. Safety Roman Harper and defensive end Will Smith are mentioned as possible candidates in this report.
Jeff Schultz takes New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to task for not acknowledging the existence of a bounty program.
After going through the first day of the offseason program, New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer talked about the strength of the Saints’ locker room, and how that should help the team with the adversity it faces in the aftermath of the bounty program. He's got a point. Although it was clear there was some friction between coach Sean Payton and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the chemistry among the New Orleans players has always been a big positive in recent years.
Gary Shelton runs through the argument that is consuming Tampa Bay fans -- should the Bucs take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the No. 5 overall pick? It’s a tough call, and I don’t think the Bucs would be making a huge mistake by going either way. I lean slightly toward Claiborne, because the trending wisdom in the NFL is that you don’t draft a running back early in the first round. Then again, the way coach Greg Schiano has been talking, his offensive system might make running back a more important position than it is for most other teams.