NFC South news: What the Falcons, Panthers, and Bucs are up to at NFL combine

The New Orleans Saints aren’t the only team active at the NFL Scouting Combine this week — all of their competitors around the NFC South are busy meeting with quarterbacks and rookie prospects in the 2023 draft.

We’ve already discussed what Saints head coach Dennis Allen and general manager Mickey Loomis have shared with reporters at the combine; now let’s check in on their peers on the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Atlanta Falcons

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Falcons cut starting quarterback Marcus Mariota this week, who ended the season by opting into early surgery on an injury so he’ll be recovered in time to join his new team for summer workouts. So he saw this coming. Former Saints personnel executive and current Falcons general manager Terry Fontenot commented on the decision to release Mariota.

“We really appreciate Marcus and all the things he did while he was here,” Fontenot told reporters at the combine. “We have had perfect communication with he and his agent. We believe we are just doing what’s best for the team at this time. But we appreciate him and what he did while he was here.”

Fontenot also signaled his intentions for Atlanta’s future under center, adding: “Ultimately, we’re going to add to the position.” The Falcons are positioned well to get whichever quarterback they want, thanks to nearly $70 million in salary cap space and owning the No. 8 overall pick in this year’s draft.

Carolina Panthers

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Carolina is on the hunt for a new quarterback, and they’re reportedly reaching out to the Green Bay Packers to gauge interest in a trade for Aaron Rodgers, but local reporting in Charlotte says otherwise. They did meet with free agent quarterback Derek Carr earlier this week at the combine and they’ve been linked to a handful of prospects under center. They could also bring back Sam Darnold as a backup or bridge until a rookie is ready to start.

One first-round target connected to them already: Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson. Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer was impressed in his sit-down with the potential top-10 pick, saying on The Clubhouse with Kyle Bailey: “Much further ahead mentally in terms of the football processing and what he knows about the game. He was really good. Obviously, the physical talent’s off the charts. It’s about, ‘How do we develop guys like him?’ And that’s why you bring in a Frank Reich. That’s why you bring in Parks Frazier and Josh McCown and Jim Caldwell—for guys like him.”

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers are doing what everyone wanted the Saints to do after Drew Brees retired. When Tom Brady hung it up, they didn’t do any clever contract restructuring to open up some savings — they don’t want to be paying off his salary cap hit in future seasons. So they’re just taking the dead money hit all at once and cutting costs elsewhere.

That means granting their leading rusher Leonard Fournette his requested release, and parting ways with their No. 2 tight end Cameron Brate, as well as veteran left tackle Donovan Smith. Speculation is swirling on wide receiver Mike Evans as someone who could be traded for a boatload of draft picks. Vultures have circled the Saints for years in hopes of a fire sale, but it looks like it’s happening in Tampa Bay.

And when asked about his team’s plans at quarterback, Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht bluntly pointed out that the unproven Kyle Trask is their only passer under contract for 2023. He didn’t rule out an early-round draft pick if the right opportunity presents itself, though: “There’s several quarterbacks that we like in this draft, just like most drafts, so obviously it’s definitely a possibility.”

Story originally appeared on Saints Wire