Samir Suleiman

NFC South Notes: Pickett, Bucs, Falcons

The Panthers have received substandard quarterback play for several years and still have Sam Darnold‘s fully guaranteed fifth-year option ($18.9MM) on their books going forward. While Carolina will undoubtedly be linked to veteran passers — potentially Deshaun Watson for a second straight offseason — the team may have early interest in Pitt prospect Kenny Pickett. The Panthers are believed to be high on Pickett, per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, who notes multiple evaluators do not believe the ACC talent will make it past Carolina’s No. 6 overall pick. Panthers owner David Tepper was previously a minority Steelers owner and, per JLC, is a Pitt booster, connecting some dots here. Tepper was believed to be behind the Panthers’ aggressive Watson interest last year, before the Texans QB’s legal issues surfaced. Based on that and the team’s push for Matthew Stafford last year, it can be assumed the owner will endorse a splashy QB addition. Although this year’s crop of prospects is not viewed especially well, Pickett impressed at the Senior Bowl and would give the Panthers a low-cost starter amid the Darnold deal.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • Tristan Wirfs could not finish the Buccaneers‘ wild-card win and missed their divisional-round Rams matchup, halting a quality run of durability to start his career. Tampa Bay’s All-Pro right tackle is moving toward taking care of his recent ankle issue. Wirfs plans to undergo surgery, per The Athletic’s Jeff Howe (subscription required). Although Bruce Arians said a non-surgical option exists (via’s Scott Smith), the standout blocker suffered a rather severe ankle injury. The former first-round pick tore two ligaments, one ripping off the bone completely, Howe adds. Wirfs said he will undoubtedly be ready for training camp.
  • The Bucs have not made a roster move regarding Tom Brady yet, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk notes, despite the all-time great announcing his retirement last week. The team has $32MM in dead money associated with its two-year quarterback. A post-June 1 placement on the reserve-retired list would defray $24MM of that total to 2023. The Saints and Panthers did this with Drew Brees and Luke Kuechly, respectively, over the past two offseasons. The Bucs doing this would also mean they would retain Brady’s rights for 2022, entitling them to compensation if the ageless passer decides he wants to play again but for another team. Should the Bucs release Brady after June 1, he would be free to sign with any team.
  • Falcons director of pro personnel Steve Sabo is leaving the team. Sabo spent the past 12 years with the Falcons, working in various roles. Previous GM Thomas Dimitroff hired Sabo, but he stayed on in Terry Fontenot‘s first year. Sabo previously served as the Falcons’ college scouting director.
  • The Panthers made a change in their front office recently as well. They are promoting cap guru Samir Suleiman to a newly created position of VP of football administration, Ian Rapoport of tweets. Suleiman previously worked as Carolina’s salary cap manager.

2021 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

This year’s NFL GM carousel figures to be more active than usual. The Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Texans, and Jaguars are all on the hunt for a new front office leader. And that’s only the official list. The real tally shows six clubs looking for a GM, since the Washington Football Team is expected to install a GM to work alongside head coach Ron Rivera. By mid-January, we could easily see a couple more jobs opening up — that’d put ~25% of the NFL on the market.

We’ll keep track of the GM candidates for each club here, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make general manager changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:

Updated 1-19-21 (7:02pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers 

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Washington Football Team

GM Notes: Colbert, Patriots, Panthers, Rhule, Bears, Pace

We brought you a new batch of coaching notes earlier, and now we’ve got a new collection of front office bullets to pass along as the Browns and Steelers wrap up wild card weekend:

  • Let’s start with the Steelers, who could be in danger of losing their GM this offseason. We heard last week that the Lions were going to pursue Kevin Colbert, and Jason La Canfora tweets their interest in making that happen is still “very real.” While La Canfora’s sources don’t think Colbert would actually make the jump, he says the Lions “continue to gather info and strategize on how to possibly lure him.” Colbert, in the midst of his 21st season in Pittsburgh, has also flirted with retirement recently. Perhaps a first-round exit at the hands of the Browns could convince him to jump ship?
  • The Patriots just lost one key exec when Nick Caserio got hired by the Texans, and fortunately for them it doesn’t look like they’ll lose another. Dave Ziegler has pulled himself out of contention for the Broncos’ GM job, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets. Rapsheet writes that the “organization has committed to Ziegler’s future, and Ziegler has committed to” New England, so it sounds like the Pats gave him an extension and/or raise to stay.
  • There was another big withdrawal on Sunday, as Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds removed himself from the Panthers’ search, Stephen Holder of The Athletic tweets. He had interviewed for the job last week. Dodds declined an interview request from the Browns back in January, so he appears to be waiting for the right opportunity to leave Indy.
  • Meanwhile as the Panthers’ search chugs along, they’ll take a look at a couple of internal candidates. Carolina will interview Director of Player Negotiations & Salary Cap Manager Samir Suleiman and Director of Player Personnel Pat Stewart for their GM vacancy (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic). The Panthers are conducting an exhaustive search, so it’s possible these are just courtesy interviews.
  • One last note on the Panthers for now. No matter who they hire, it looks like it may be Matt Rhule who’s in charge at the end of the day. “Rhule will essentially be running the show in Carolina,” after they replace the fired Marty Hurney, a source told Mike Florio of That’s not all that surprising after owner David Tepper paid him a fortune to lure him from Baylor and Rhule earned strong marks for his first season with the Panthers, getting a bare-bones roster to fight hard and play a bunch of close games against good teams. Florio writes that whoever gets the gig “surely won’t get the job without Rhule’s agreement.” Rhule seems like a strong coach, but obviously these kind of arrangements can get dangerous, as we’ve seen with the Texans and Bill O’Brien.
  • Matt Nagy is going to be back with the Bears in 2021, but GM Ryan Pace’s future apparently isn’t entirely secure. Chicago could target Chiefs exec Mike Borgonzi this offseason, multiple sources told Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. As Biggs points out, it would make sense for them to bring in someone familiar with Nagy if they’re going to change GMs but not coaches. Nagy, of course, coached in Kansas City under Andy Reid for a while. The Bears’ blowout loss to the Saints today certainly isn’t working in Pace’s favor, and the drafting of Mitchell Trubisky second overall never worked out. This will be an interesting situation to monitor this week.