Hitting the NFC South hot spots

Time to take a plunge into the NFC South mailbag to see what’s on your minds.

Rob in Houston Texas (and numerous others) asks if Carson Palmer, who reportedly wants out of Cincinnati, could be a possibility for the Carolina Panthers.

Pat Yasinskas: I can see the logic in this and, personally, like the idea. If there isn’t really a franchise quarterback in this draft, Palmer could come in and allow the Panthers to try to develop Jimmy Clausen slowly or at least give them another year for Andrew Luck to enter the draft. But it’s really going to be up to Carolina general manager Marty Hurney, new coach Ron Rivera, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterbacks coach Mike Shula. They’re all just getting started with the scouting process and they’re at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. this week. They have to see if there is a quarterback they really like in this draft. Hurney supervised the start of a youth movement last year and I don’t anticipate the Panthers veering too far from that. But, if they don’t like the quarterback prospects in the draft, I could see the Panthers making an exception and going after Palmer or some other veteran. Last season showed the importance of the quarterback position for the Panthers. They have some good players elsewhere, but the struggles at quarterback dragged the whole team down. A short-term fix might be a consideration.

Brian in Columbus, Ga. asks if there is any chance the Falcons fire defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

Pat Yasinskas: Don’t think so. If that was going to happen, it already would have. Yes, the defense had a horrible outing against Green Bay in the playoff loss, but it wasn’t bad during the regular season. It’s easy to put the blame on one guy. But coach Mike Smith has a strong defensive background and is heavily involved in how that defense is run.

Chris in Virginia says it would be a huge mistake for the Buccaneers to let Davin Joseph go and they need to re-sign him before he escapes as a free agent.

Pat Yasinskas: Agree that letting Joseph go as a free agent would be a big mistake. He’s a top-notch guard and he and left tackle Donald Penn give the Bucs the nucleus for a strong offensive line. I suspect the Bucs will try to re-sign Joseph. They know he’s a good player and they will have plenty of salary-cap room. But I don’t anticipate anything happening until a new labor deal is reached. The Bucs and every other team in the league are waiting to see how the labor situation sorts out.

Matt in Ventura, Calif. asks what are the chances of Tanard Jackson returning to the Buccaneers next season.

Pat Yasinskas: Jackson was suspended for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy for one year and that started in late September 2010. He’s not eligible to apply for reinstatement until late September of this year. The Bucs cannot release or trade him while he is on the suspended list. His contract ran only through the 2010 season, so his status is very much in limbo right now. He’s a talented player and I believe the Bucs would like to keep him if he gets reinstated and has his life under control. But they have to prepare to at least go the first few games of next season without him.

Mike in New Orleans says he has no problem with my selection of Josh Freeman as the NFC South’s Most Valuable Player. But he argues that the New Orleans offense is “nothing’’ without Brees and the Saints probably win only two or three games without him. He asks if I can say the same thing about Tampa Bay.

Pat Yasinskas: If you look back at the column, I took it even further with Tampa Bay. I said it’s my belief the Bucs would have gone 0-16 without Freeman. I’ve seen Josh Johnson and Rudy Carpenter in practice and I don’t think either one of them would be effective. I agree the hypothetical loss of Brees would hurt the New Orleans offense. But I think you could plug Chase Daniel in with that cast of receivers and still have a competitive offense and, aside from the postseason, the defense was pretty good. The Saints still would win some games without Brees, but it would help if their running game was a bit more consistent than it was last season.