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Greg Auman | FOX Sports NFC South Reporter

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January 23, 2024 6:06 am

Greg Auman | FOX Sports NFC South Reporter

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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January 23, 2024 6:06 am

NFC South Reporter Greg Auman from FOX Sports joins the show to recap Baker Mayfield & the Bucs' surprisingly successful season, a new coaching search in Atlanta, trying to fix the Carolina Panthers, and what to do in New Orleans with the Saints.

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That's BetterHelp.com slash grow. We are pleased to welcome Greg Almon, who covers the NFC South for Fox Sports, used to be with the Tampa Bay Times, covered the Bucks for a long time solely. So why don't we start there, Greg? Now that it's all said and done, how would you describe the Buccaneers season? You know, I think they exceeded expectations, even their own. I mean, I think outside, there was not much expectation of anything for their seed. You know, I think people, it was kind of easy to see that Brady was gone. They had limited spending and replacing him. And so he expected a big drop off. I think most people did, in a bad division even. So no, for them to, you know, to get another division title and win a playoff game, you know, in a year where you're really kind of taking your lumps financially with some of the salary cap pinches they were in. It's pretty impressive.

Why did they exceed expectations? It can't be as simple as Baker Mayfield, though I know he's part of the equation. Yeah, I think you're certainly part of it, and he's probably, of all the newcomers, the biggest part of it. But, you know, I think, you know, Brady retired. But I think, you know, so much of the team that won a Super Bowl in 2020 is still around, you know, defensively.

You know, I forget what the number is, I guess it's probably seven starters defensively that are back from that. So I just think, you know, that kind of laid the groundwork for a team, you know, having high expectations and expecting a lot, even without the leader they had. I mean, you know, this past year, you know, when Brady, Brady's last season at Tampa wasn't necessarily a great year for him.

And I just think kind of left behind the Seth of our high. You know, I think that what Tom always knew was, you know, even a down year still can be a playoff year, you know. And I think to some extent, I think that's been left by him here in Tampa. This is just four years in a row in the playoffs, three division titles, but that's as long a run as they've ever had here as franchise. It's the only team in the NFC to have been to the playoffs four years in a row. One of them was a losing record last season, and this year they were fighting the whole way. So it speaks to, if nothing else, the culture of the franchise, that they're just willing to battle it out to the end.

Yeah, oh yeah. And this is a team, you know, you go back, you know, they're four and seven at one point. So I mean, that's one of those where there's very few teams, period, that have lost six out of seven in a season and made the playoffs. So I think it speaks to, you know, being able to kind of weather the highs and lows and stay together.

I mean, that's kind of the biggest part is to recognize that, you know, you can get back into it, but it's not going to be easy. They did that really well. I mean, they won four in a row to kind of get back on top of the division. And even then, I mean, if you think about, you mentioned, you know, them being eight and nine last year and losing in the first round of the playoffs.

I think it would have been really easy to duplicate that and not accomplish much besides hanging a banner. So I think for them to win another game on top of what they did last year and then to win a playoff game, I think definitely separated things. And even Sunday in Detroit was a loss, but it's a loss that's a one score loss, you know, where they had the ball with two minutes to go and a chance to tie.

So I think the fact that they stayed in in these games and kind of fought to the end, if you will, speaks well to who they are and how close they were this year. Greg Almon covers the NFC South for Fox Sports after hours with Amy Lawrence here on CBS Sports Radio. So often when a team falls out of the playoffs, and I think it has to do with expectations, the first gut reaction is, oh, fire the coach, it's time for a change.

And yet we're not hearing any of that around Tampa. How did this team find stability, not just post Brady, but post Bruce Arians with his abrupt exit? Yeah, that was a lot to change there. You know, and I think the first year that both had, because the coaching change happened in March, kind of later in the year, it wasn't necessarily entirely his team, the way you think about a new coach having a team. So there were some tweaks to his coaching staff after one year, made some changes on offense. Dave Canales is the new coordinator here, and that was probably the biggest change. You know, I think having a second year with Bowles as the head coach, you think about a team carrying a coach's disposition and mentality and demeanor and all that. And I think this is probably a little closer to a Bowles team as opposed to an Arians team that Bowles took over this season. I think that's a big part of kind of the forward progress, maybe that made them a better team in 23. Bowles has been steadfast in his support of Baker Mayfield. In fact, he called him, I think it was a warrior earlier in the season. Why does Baker fit with the Bucks?

Yeah, it's been neat. And then obviously Baker, you know, he's a guy, you know, former no more overall pick, certainly had every opportunity there in Cleveland. And then, you know, it was unfortunate for him that they, they wanted to upgrade to Deshaun Watson, you know, and that obviously has worked a certain way for Cleveland the last two years.

But Baker, if you look back to 2020, that was definitely probably the best that Baker had been leading a team to the playoffs, career highs, I think 27 touchdowns that year. So when he came here to Tampa, I mean, I think there was an awareness that could be what, you know, what he's capable of. But if it didn't work out, if he didn't turn things around, this was probably his last chance to go into a season as a starter for a team. You know, you kind of run out of those opportunities eventually, you know, I think he still had to beat out Kyle Trask here wasn't necessarily given to him. But I think there was a recognition that, you know, you get this guy for $4 million, you know, it's about the low end for starting quarterbacks to be. And I think he had a chance to reestablish himself and show that he can be a starting quarterback. And, you know, I don't think people expected quite the bounce back Gary had to, you know, reset career highs and passing yards and passing touchdowns.

And a lot like 2020, you know, lead a team back to the playoffs and then win a playoff game as well. What do we know about a possible deal for him, Mike Evans and some of the other key free agents? Where is the team with them? Yeah, there's four or five big free agents.

That'll be a priority for them. They have the cap space to get most of them back, but it's definitely starts with Mayfield. I mean, this is one where, you know, I think I'll make about $6.8 million with incentives this year and we'll be in line for so much more than that.

So it's just a matter of figuring out what, I guess what a contract is that makes him happy. I don't think it'll be as high as some of these big quarterback deals in recent years in terms of Daniel Jones and some of the other top tier. I think a lot of people will point to Geno Smith, the deal he got last year from Seattle.

That was basically three and $75 million. You know, I think Mayfield has an awareness of wanting to keep the best players around him too. So I don't think he gains much if he gets a massive contract, but doesn't have Mike Evans back or doesn't have Antoine Willard or Winfield back.

That's definitely something he's been aware of and even publicly kind of said, Hey, if he's back, he wants Mike back and he recognizes that sacrifice is going to have to be made by everybody if they want to keep everything together. So it's not just Baker. Again, Mike Evans will be easily the best receiver in this free agency class. If he gets out, Antoine Winfield's probably the best safety in this free agency class.

You know, those three are huge. And then you have Leontae David, who's played his entire career here. He's 33, so that's a little bit different. And then Devin White is probably the one that's most likely to get away as a former first round pick and a big part of their Super Bowl team three years ago. But somebody who's really kind of fallen off a bit this year and taken a step back, didn't even really finish the year as a primary or starting linebacker. Does Mike Evans want to stay in Tampa?

Yeah, very much. I mean, he's played his entire career here. 10 years in one place talks about how, you know, I think he knows how rare he is to get to, especially a receiver, to spend your whole career in one place. I mean, you think about that 14 draft class that he's a big part of and everybody's bounced around. I mean, that's, you know, you got Brandon Cook and a bunch of guys that are on four, if not five teams. And really for a while, it was just him and Devontae Adams who's the only guy that stayed in one place. And even Devontae now has obviously moved on from Green Bay. Again, I think he's very prideful, wants to be paid like a top tier receiver in the NFL, you know, and just finished out a five year deal that paid him about 16 million a year, which is fairly low by top tier NFL receiver standard.

Right. So I think it'll be more than that. It's just a matter of if he wants it to be 25, 27, 28 million kind of in that Cooper Cup range, it might have to be with another team.

I don't know if the Bucks are in pitch to pay that much, but they very much want him back. This is an iconic player here in Tampa, probably the best offensive player in team history, has completely rewritten all of their receiving records, already has all the career marks for yards and touchdowns and receptions. The game he had Sunday, and they get 147 yards Sunday, basically the best receiving playoff game in Bucks history. I think he has the top four receiving games. It's like it's one of those where the record book is him and the ones that aren't him. Chris Godwin probably has half the other ones.

So they've kind of rewritten the books here a little bit. Yeah, he's definitely one of the best. And he and Baker developed a rapport pretty quickly. It seems like so you can understand why Baker definitely wants him back. Greg Almond covers the NFC South, not just the Bucks for Fox Sports.

And he's with us here after hours, CBS Sports Radio. Let's talk about the Falcons because I think at last check they had interviewed 14 different candidates for head coach. What's the latest on that coaching opening?

Yeah, casting a wide net and not afraid to go after the kind of the biggest fish there out there. I think Arthur Bank has always kind of been an ambitious owner as NFL owners go. So Jim Harbaugh is in that group. Bill Belichick is in that group. And then also now pretty much the top assistants that are available as well. I think once Belichick got a second interview, there are a lot of people that thought it might be his to lose or kind of his job, if you will.

Which is wild. You think about, you know, Belichick, his entire, you know, you think about the last 24 years in one place, 10 Super Bowls, six wins. And the Falcons as a franchise have never won the Super Bowl. And the closest they came, obviously, not winning it was because of Bill Belichick in 23.

And that came there. So it'd be wild if that's the pairing. But they've continued to interview a lot of other people since then.

Ben Johnson and Bobby Sullivan. I mean, the list of it's pretty much a who's who of the candidates who are available. And I think that speaks to this being a team that, you know, is really close to being a playoff team and probably just needs, A, a coach and B, a quarterback. Is that all?

And that's two big ones to check off. But I do think if they can find the right guy at quarterback, the rest of this team, you know, lines up like a playoff team, especially in the division that, you know, is fairly up for grabs. You can see why a lot of coaches are interested. What is Arthur Blank looking for?

Yeah. He usually said, I mean, they talked about having head coaching experience be a priority, which would that would definitely lend itself more towards the veteran in this group, whether it's Belichick or Jim Harbaugh or even Mike Vrabel, whose son was on the Falcons team this this past year. They've pointed those things, but I don't think they've locked into that. I think they've talked to some of the best assistants that are out there that are young, that are not even 40 yet and would be a departure. You know, I mean, I think they had gone young offensive assistant three years ago when they brought in Arthur Smith.

And that didn't necessarily work. It's really easy sometimes for these NFL teams to it's kind of like a rebound relationship where you. Go from the opposite of what you had before, if you had an old defensive coach, you go with a young offensive coach and you kind of do the opposite of what you did that didn't work the last time. But I do think there's a desire to stay on the offensive side. We've seen that on most of the young assistants that have come in. But if you look at Houston, if you look at the D'Amico Ryan's, that's a defensive minded coach that was able to find the right assistant and really cultivate a great, you know, young quarterback and develop CJ Stroud into who he's been.

This year. Greg, we know now that the Panthers have promoted a former player to their GM position. What's their next step? Yeah, it'll be interesting to see. I mean, they, you know, there's still five other openings, you know, five openings in the NFL right now.

So the they're still one of the least you would argue one of the least attractive jobs. It's still open just because they have an owner who's fired three coaches in six years from a talent standpoint, you know, not a very talented team this past year. It's exciting to have a young quarterback in bright young, but you didn't have the year that you expect from an M1 overall pick 11 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. So I think, you know, for someone to take this job, A, they have to buy into bright young, they have to be sold on Bryce being somebody they think they can take a big step forward with. And then, you know, also turn things around in a city that hasn't had a lot to be excited about has gone a couple of years without being meaningful without playing playoff football. You have to hope that David Tepper is a little bit more patient as an owner, just because, I mean, again, this is three times in his six years he's fired a coach in mid-season. So I think there's going to be some consternation from any coach that comes in just wondering whether they'll all have the time to get the turnaround the franchise needs.

Greg, Almond covers the NFC South. We're working our way through so much transition, so many question marks. And I would say Bryce Young, at least from the national perspective, is still a question mark. What was your opinion of his rookie season? Not the splash you want when you trade up so much that they traded to get the number one pick.

DJ Moore and multiple first round picks, including the number one pick in this draft. So, no, I think there were flashes you saw the end. I mean, it's one of those where you go two and 15. You're not going to have a whole lot of signature moments and exciting moments. But I think the end of the Packers game, even though it was a loss, was probably where he broke out and really showed something. I think he threw for 167 yards in the fourth quarter. Two touchdowns, didn't ultimately win, but kind of did all the right things. They had so few legit downfield threats on that team that, you know, I think it was a lot of short passes to Adam Thielen, DJ Shark, the rookie Jonathan Mingo had to moment.

But for the most part, in terms of yards for attempt, this is the worst offense in the NFL. So you have to hope that that's not something that's scarring for Bryce Young. For somebody that only lost three times in college as a starter, to go from that to two and 15 is a pretty jarring adjustment. But again, I think what you saw in Bryce was certainly a maturity, a leadership aspect that's hard to appreciate when you're losing as consistently as they lost.

But I think there's not a shortage of people that still believe in him. I mean, Todd Bowles, the Bucks had them in week 18, and Bowles was ridiculously complimentary of Bryce Young. Just talking about how he still thinks he's going to be one of the best to ever do it at his position. Which is hard when you've seen so little flashes of dominance in that first year. That leaves us with the Saints. And so before I let you go, Greg, what is the biggest question facing them this offseason now that they've decided to keep Dennis Allen?

Yeah, that was kind of the big thing. I mean, this is a team that is going to have some issues with the salary cap. I mean, they're about, I think, winning the offseason about $88 million over the cap.

This is something they've done before, but it's going to take a lot of maneuvering and restructuring and probably losing some of the better players just to get under the cap. But no, I mean, it's one of those where this was a veteran group, you know, defensively. Finished 9-8. That's a tie for the best record in the division.

Just behind the Bucks on a tiebreaker. But it finished the year well. I mean, Derek Carr probably had his best month in the final month of the season. I forget the finals, but it was like 12 touchdowns against two picks maybe in the last four games.

Came out and really, really beat up on Atlanta in the last week of the season in a rivalry game. So, I think there's a little bit of positive momentum there. They're an older team on defense, so they're kind of defying the odds to have guys like De'Mario Davis and Kim Jordan still playing at a high level at 36 and 34. They need some of those younger guys on defense to start clicking and start paying off. They need to draft well.

But no, this is another thing where, I mean, they made 9-8. They're a tiebreaker away from winning the division title. They don't have to worry about a first-place schedule. So, they'll be right there, especially if they can take a step forward on offense. I mean, they've made some changes on their offensive staff where there'll be new coaches in place there. If they can get a full season like the final month that Derek Carr had, there's a lot in play and a lot of talent that can get that team to really contend not only for the division, but for making a dent in the playoffs too. Definitely wondrous variety in the NFC South. So many possibilities moving forward and so much change. You can find Greg on Twitter at Greg Alman, A-U-M-A-N, covers the NFC South for Fox Sports.

He's based there in Tampa. Greg, thank you so much for a couple of minutes. It's great to catch up with you. Oh sure, I'm here. We'll do it again.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2024-01-23 08:28:37 / 2024-01-23 08:37:32 / 9

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