NFC South mailbag

Time for another round of the mailbag and we’ll be a little heavy on Atlanta. That’s mainly because Falcons fans, who had been very quiet in recent weeks, really stepped up with a bunch of questions over the weekend. Thanks. If you’re not sending questions about your team, I can’t make them up.

Steve in Rochester, N.Y., writes: Any word on how Brian Williams' knee is healing? Do the Falcons think he will be opposite Dunta Robinson come opening day? I've read Christopher Owens could be the man if Williams isn't ready. Is this true?

Pat Yasinskas: I’ve asked general manager Thomas Dimitroff about all of Atlanta’s injured guys several times. He won’t break down where each guy is in his rehab, but he says all the guys who were injured are coming along well and should be ready for training camp. The Falcons wouldn’t have re-signed Williams if he wasn’t coming along well. Right now, you’d have to project Williams as the starter opposite Robinson. But the Falcons also are high on Owens, Brent Grimes and Chevis Jackson. Owens came on strong at the end of last season and certainly could contend for a starting job with a good preseason.

Derek in Mandeville, La., writes: Do you think the Saints are going to lose any more of the key starters from last year? I know Darren Sharper may not return. Do you think there is any interest in Jahri Evans or Jammal Brown? Picking up some draft picks from either of those guys would be great!

Pat Yasinskas: Now that Scott Fujita is gone to Cleveland, Sharper’s the only key unrestricted free agent. The Saints have interest in bringing him back, but they’ll let him test the market for now. He’s 34 and I think they’re playing it smart and have no intention of overpaying him. Evans and Brown each have been given the highest tender for restricted free agents. Another team would have to give up a first- and a third-round pick to sign either of them. That’s a steep price and will probably keep most teams from pursuing them. I also think the Saints would match just about any offer to Evans because he might be the best guard in the league. Brown was hurt last year, but he’s a left tackle who has been to the Pro Bowl. That type of left tackle doesn’t grow on trees, and it would take a huge offer for the Saints not to keep Brown.

Robbie in Murphy, N.C., writes: Why is everyone insisting that the Panthers are not trying to win this year? Our biggest loss was Julius Peppers, the other guys were older and not really impact players. The media is not sold on Matt Moore either and some say our best option is to draft Tim Tebow with our 2nd round pick or trade for Michael Vick. That's just ridiculous to me. Vick never was a good QB and has always been over-rated. Your thoughts please?

Pat Yasinskas: The stuff on Vick and Tebow seems ridiculous to me, too. Once again, I’ll say there’s no way Jerry Richardson would touch Vick. As for Tebow, the Panthers need to win now (John Fox is in the last year of his contract), and you don’t do that with a rookie quarterback who just recently decided to change his throwing motion. Moore was promising last year and I think you’ll see the Panthers add another quarterback with some experience at some point. And you’re right: Peppers was the only significant guy in the purge and that was because he and the team didn’t see eye to eye. There’s still a good core (Jon Beason, Chris Gamble, Jordan Gross, Steve Smith, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart) in place. Yes, the Panthers have gotten rid of a bunch of guys, but this offseason is far from over. They’ll add some guys as time goes on and, like I said, Fox really needs to win now.

Corey in Hanford, Calif., writes: What about the BUCS? They have been extremely quiet when there has been chances to significantly improve this team before the draft and still have picks.

Pat Yasinskas: The Bucs have said they’ll be relatively quiet in free agency and they’ve held true to that so far. I suspect you’ll see some movement once we get to the second wave of free agency, which will be starting soon. Tampa Bay is committed to building through the draft, but the Bucs can’t get all of their needs there. They didn’t chase any of the big names, but I think you’ll see them as players for some mid-level guys who will fit needs.

Mark in Marietta, Ga., writes: What are the chances that Charles Grant lands in Atlanta or Carolina? Is he a good fit for either?

Pat Yasinskas: No doubt Carolina and Atlanta both need help at defensive end, and I’m not ruling out Grant landing with either one. But don’t expect anything right away. Grant’s an older guy who didn’t always produce in New Orleans and he also got hurt at the end of last year. He’s likely to hang on the market for some time. If Atlanta and Carolina don’t fill their needs elsewhere, Grant could be an option later in free agency.

Phillip in Atlanta writes: Now that the Falcons have signed Dunta Robinson and are getting Peria Jerry and Brian Williams from injury, do you think the Falcons have a better defense? Also can they slow down New Orleans's passing attack?

Pat Yasinskas: Plug in Robinson, Jerry and Williams and Atlanta’s defense is instantly better on paper. The Falcons still need a pass-rusher and I’m sure they’ll address that in time. Can they shut down the Saints’ passing game? Well, that’s almost impossible. But even last year the Falcons played well against the Saints both times. With a better defense, I see Atlanta as the best challenger in the division.

Niraj in Atlanta writes: When is the NFL schedule going to be released? We Falcon fans have to plan when to migrate!

Pat Yasinskas: Don’t have an exact date yet, but probably sometime in early April. Also, the NFL probably will announce select prime-time games at the league meeting in late March.