Let's take a run through some odds and ends from around the division:
The Falcons top Jeff Schultz’s rankings of the pro and college teams in the Atlanta area. That differs from the usual belief that the Braves and college football are the biggest things in Atlanta. But the Falcons have had five straight winning seasons, which might explain why they finally are being fully embraced in Atlanta.
General manager Thomas Dimitroff said the Falcons are evaluating closely the tight end prospects at the combine. Even if veteran Tony Gonzalez decides to return for another season, I still could see the Falcons taking a tight end in this year’s draft. It wouldn’t hurt to have the eventual successor to Gonzalez spend a year learning from the best tight end ever.
Joseph Person writes that the Panthers plan to keep running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. That will probably mean a restructuring of Williams’ contract. But it would mean the Panthers have two top-notch running backs and another solid one in Mike Tolbert. But, if the Panthers do keep all three, it might be wise for new offensive coordinator Mike Shula to get them all more involved in the offense than they were last season when Rob Chudzinski was calling the plays.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Former Saints safety and special teams ace Steve Gleason continues to inspire. He completed the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Half Marathon on Saturday. Gleason, who is battling ALS, was pushed by his brother-in-law in his customized wheelchair.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Rick Stroud reports that the Bucs have yet to talk to safety Ronde Barber about playing another season. That simply may be because the Bucs want to give Barber plenty of time to decide if he wants to continue playing. It also could be a sign that the Bucs are contemplating moving in a different direction. Whatever the case, the Bucs need to handle this the right way if they don’t want Barber back. The franchise badly mishandled the release of Derrick Brooks back in 2009. Barber is as much of an icon in Tampa Bay as Brooks was and, if he’s going out, he deserves to do it on good terms.