Gayle Benson

NFC South Notes: Saints, Clowney, Bucs

Before Jadeveon Clowney signed with the Titans, the Saints attempted to orchestrate a sign-and-trade in order to land the star edge rusher — but the NFL put the kibosh on such a maneuver, as Tom Pelissero and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com write. In the proposed scenario, an unidentified team (widely believed to be the Browns) would have signed Clowney to a one-year deal with a $5MM signing bonus and a $10MM base salary.

Clowney then would have been dealt to the Saints in exchange for a second-round pick, per the NFL scribes. The mystery team would have absorbed the $5MM signing bonus on its salary cap, giving the cap-strapped Saints the breathing room they would have needed in order to acquire Clowney. But the league office gave word it wouldn’t approve a deal that amounted to trading cap space.

“We felt like we got close,” Saints head coach Sean Payton said, via Mike Triplett of ESPN.com (Twitter link). “We weren’t able to match the money, and that’s one of the challenges every year. Mickey (Loomis) and Khai (Harley) did a great job working with (Clowney’s agent).” The Ravens may have also attempted a sign-and-trade strategy to land Clowney, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk indicates Baltimore tried to arrange a similar strategy involving the Jaguars. Tennessee ultimately landed Clowney on a one-year, $13MM pact that includes $2MM in incentives.

  • Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans is dealing with a hamstring injury and could be a game-time decision for Sunday’s tilt against the Saints, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Evans ended last season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, but he hadn’t missed any time during camp, so the injury must have flared up recently. If Evans is forced to miss Week 1, Chris Godwin could see even more targets than usual, while Justin Watson and Scotty Miller would likely become more involved in Tampa Bay’s offense.
  • The Buccaneers‘ backfield split became extremely murky following the addition of Leonard Fournette, but head coach Bruce Arians says Ronald Jones is still the club’s starter, per Jenna Laine of ESPN.com. Of course, Arians has been anything but fully truthful when it comes to running back touches over the years, but Jones should at least get the first snap of 2020. Arians said Fournette will have a “situational role” in Week 1 (Twitter link via Pewter Report), while LeSean McCoy should still be a factor on passing downs. Tampa Bay also worked out a number of running backs, including veteran Kenjon Barner, earlier this week, tweets Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com.
  • Saints owner Gayle Benson has thankfully recovered after contracting COVID-19 in August, as Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes. The 73-year-old Benson was not forced to spend any time in the hospital while quarantined, and was still able to take part in team business.

South Notes: Ngakoue, Benson, Campbell

A little over a week ago, Michael Lombardi of The Athletic reported that the Jaguars were on the verge of a deal that would ship disgruntled defensive end Yannick Ngakoue out of Jacksonville. Jags GM Dave Caldwell refuted the report, saying no trade involving Ngakoue is imminent.

But Lombardi has doubled down and insists a trade will happen soon (subscription required). He says Ngakoue is not motivated by money right now, he is motivated by a change of scenery, so he is not worried about missing game checks. According to Lombardi, if Ngakoue is not traded, he will not report until the 10th game of the season, the deadline for him to be able to count the 2020 season as an accredited year towards free agency. And at that point, the trade deadline will be in the rear-view mirror and the Jaguars will be left with nothing but a comp pick when Ngakoue signs elsewhere.

On the other hand, Lombardi’s second report linked above was published on August 21, and nothing has materialized on the Ngakoue front since then. It is, as ever, a situation to keep an eye on.

Now for more from the league’s south divisions:

  • Saints owner Gayle Benson tested positive for COVID-19, the team announced. Luckily, the 73-year-old was not hospitalized and is recovering at her New Orleans home. Benson is the second NFL owner to test positive, joining the Cardinals’ Michael Bidwill. Bidwill was hospitalized for his symptoms but appears to have made a full recovery, and it sounds as if Benson will do the same.
  • Mike Chappell of Fox 59 reports that Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell is in the concussion protocol following a minor car accident earlier this week. Indianapolis nabbed the Ohio State speedster in the second round of last year’s draft, and after his rookie campaign was derailed due to injury, he was in the midst of a solid training camp this year. He is a roster lock, of course, but it’s unfortunate that his positive momentum has been slowed a bit.
  • The Texans activated Gareon Conley from the PUP list earlier this month, and Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle reports that the 2017 first-rounder is progressing well from his offseason arthroscopic ankle surgery. Houston declined Conley’s fifth-year option for 2021, so he will be eligible for free agency next year and could cash in with a strong platform campaign. However, Wilson says second-year pro Lonnie Johnson and Conley are neck-and-neck for a starting job, as Conley has been inconsistent since his return to the field.
  • We learned earlier today that the Buccaneers are interested in extending longtime LB Lavonte David.

Gayle Benson To Run Saints After Husband’s Death

Some clarity emerged about the operation of the Saints on Thursday. Gayle Benson, the widow of deceased Saints owner Tom Benson, will run the team.

She announced her late husband’s plan was for her to be the franchise’s controlling owner.

My husband’s plan and desire was for me to have full voting control of the Saints and to serve as Controlling Owner of the team per NFL rules,” Gayle Benson wrote in a letter to the 31 other teams today (via PFT). “I understood this and want to reassure you that I am fully prepared to assume this role. Moving forward, I too, will provide the Commissioner my very own Ownership Succession Plan of the New Orleans Saints.

Please rest assured, I will own and operate this franchise until my death and do so with the same drive and focus towards success that my husband displayed throughout his life.”

Tom Benson owned the Saints from 1985 until his death last month. Benson married Gayle, his third wife, in 2004. Her involvement represented a point of contention with some of Benson’s heirs, and Tom Benson changed his will to keep his daughter and grandchildren from a previous marriage out of the ownership picture. The case was settled early last year.

Gayle Benson writes that the Saints are in good financial shape and will continue to play in the Superdome.