Cover 9@9: Welcome Rivers to the NFC South?

NFL's elder statesmen quarterbacks, and the year they entered the league

Welcome to the Cover 9@9 blog — our weekly list of nine things that you need to know about the Atlanta Falcons.

1. The no spin zone. The first shoe dropped in the prospective round of musical quarterbacks in the NFC South this week.

After 16 years, the Chargers announced Monday they are parting ways with 38-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers. Up next for the former North Carolina State star is free agency.

He moved his family to Florida after the season. Tampa Bay could have an opening it decides to part ways with Jameis Winston. Bucs coach Bruce Arians likes his roster, which went 5-3 down the stretch, but couldn’t overcome Winston’s 30 interceptions. They finished 7-9.

Arians had some success in Arizona when he added Carson Palmer — at age 34 — in 2013.

The Cardinals went to the playoffs in 2014 and 2015. In 2014, they lost in the wild card round before advancing to the NFC championship game after the 2015 season where they were thumped 49-15 by the Panthers.

Rivers showed some signs of slippage last season as he threw 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions for the Chargers.

Rivers has passed for 59,217 yards, 397 touchdowns and 198 interceptions in his career. He has a career passer rating of 95.1. Winston has thrown 88 interceptions over five seasons. If plays 16 seasons, he’d be on pace to throw 281 interceptions.

In New Orleans, Drew Brees is mulling retirement while backup Taysom Hill went on a rant about his greatness.

The Saints also have Teddy Bridgewater, who went 5-0 as a starter last season, in the bullpen.

Hill, who’s attempted only 13 passes in the league, said he wants to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. That’s a pretty small sample size.

Hill has made his mark as a gadget play specialist over his three seasons with the Saints.

Hill, who went on a Mormon mission after high school before starting his college career at Brigham Young in 2012, will turn 29 in August and believes his time to start has come.

While up in Charlotte, owner David Tepper, who hired a college coach (good luck), had some comments about quarterback Cam Newton's health on Tuesday.

Newton missed most of the 2019 season with a foot injury.

“I’ve said again and again, it’s a question of how healthy he is,” Tepper told the Charlotte media after an announcement of a donation to the local teachers and students. “That's the No. 1 overwhelming thing. Everything comes from that.

“There’s a lot of different things that can happen. First – is (he) healthy? Tell me that and then we can talk.”

The Panthers, who dropped their final eight games of the 2019 season, are set to select seventh overall in the NFL draft. The new coach, Matt Rhule, formerly of Baylor, could elect to play with Kyle Allen, Will Grier or maybe select Oregon’s Justin Herbert in the draft.

Newton, if healthy, could be a nice fit with the Chargers, who want a mobile quarterback to run the offense, according to Eric Williams of ESPN. With the Chargers set to move into the new stadium, they need to add some star power and Newton, the former league MVP from Westlake and Auburn, would fit the bill.

Newton could also be a good fit for the Bears, who have the mobile but inaccurate Mitch Trubisky.

The Panthers, who are arguably in rebuilding mode after the exodus of tight end Greg Olsen and linebacker Luke Kuechly, could save $19.1 million in salary cap space by releasing Newton.

Early last season, Newton suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot that required surgery in December. Former Falcons defensive back Von Hutchins was forced to retire in 2008 after suffering a Lisfranc injury.

The Panthers owner has been given several opportunities to declare that Newton is their quarterback, but has elected not to do so.

So, it could be Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Rivers in Tampa Bay, Hill or Bridgewater in New Orleans, and Kyle Allen/Will Grier in Carolina in 2020.

It’s going to be a interesting offseason in the NFC South.

» MORE: Could Keanu Neal be salary cap casualty?

2. Bobby Turner is a legend. I caught up with San Francisco running back coach Bobby Turner, the architect of the 49ers' running attack, at Super Bowl LIV.

We go back to his days at Ohio State, when he had Robert Smith, Eddie Georgie, Carlos Snow, Scottie Graham, Raymont Harris, Jeff Cothran and Butler Bynote. All would go on to play in the NFL.

At the time it was thought he would become one of the first African-American head coaches in the Big Ten after Dennis Green (1981 Northwestern) and Francis Peay (1986 Northwestern). But his time as assistant head coach/offensive coordinator at Purdue from 1991-94 didn’t go well.

He went to Denver on Mike Shanahan’s staff in 1995 and started churning out 1,000-yard running backs. He stayed with the Broncos until 2009. He’s followed the Shanahans to Washington (2010-14), Atlanta (2015-16) and San Francisco (2017 to present).

“They’re family to me,” Turner said of the Shanahans. “Yeah, there is a business part to it because if I don’t do my job, I’m going to be gone. We don’t always see 100 percent. ... I see more eye to eye with them than I do with my kids and my wife. We spent a lot of hours together. But they are family. They are part of my family.

“It’s business. If he didn’t feel that I could help him, believe me he wouldn’t have asked me to go to Washington with him. It’s a win-win. It’s loyalty. I have been loyal to them as an assistant coach and they both have been loyal to me as head coaches.”

3. Turner is a tireless worker. Turner is known to scout every running back in the draft, every year. He calls them up and starts a relationship after the draft.

Here’s what he looks for in his running backs.

“Ball security,” Turner said. “I’m very big on the ball security and no dancing. Get that ball back to the line of scrimmage. That’s a given. Wherever I’ve been that’s been me. That’s my deal. That’s my M.O. No dancing around. Get that ball back to the line of scrimmage so that we don’t lose yardage.”

The Shanahans and former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs have received credit for the outside zone rushing system, but Turner has been there the whole time.

“I’m not here to say that,” Turner said when asked he deserved credit for the system. “We all worked together. It just so happened that when we all worked together, we saw it all out of the same lenses. We all had the same philosophy. We were all singing the same song. That was the key. We were all singing the same song in Washington. We were all singing the same song in Atlanta.

“We are all singing the same song here. All 11 people need to be involved. That means all of the players. That’s the other key dominator there, Alex Gibbs, Mike Shanahan, Kyle Shanahan is we are committed to making that running game succeed.”

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) smiles as he talks with running backs  coach Bobby Turner during a practice at the University of Washington Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Seattle. Freeman has not been the same back since Turner left after the 2016 season with Kyle Shanahan.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman (24) smiles as he talks with running backs coach Bobby Turner during a practice at the University of Washington Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Seattle. Freeman has not been the same back since Turner left after the 2016 season with Kyle Shanahan.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

4. Freeman misses Turner. It was pointed out that Falcons running back Devonta Freeman hasn't been the same since Turner left after the 2016 Super Bowl season.

Turner wouldn’t touch that issue and just smiled.

5. Turner flashback. Turner liked talking about his days on John Cooper's staff at Ohio State.

“We go back to Robert Smith and Carlos Snow,” Turner said. “That’s what people forget, that’s why I say I’m the same. If you ask my players, they’ll tell you that it’s about consistency.”

6. PFF's Falcons offseason overview: The Falcons have a projected $5.3 million under the salary cap, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Falcons should target edge rusher Ronald Blair III, cornerback Mackensie Alexander and safety Tre Boston in free agency.

The Falcons will have some salary cap cuts and PFF projected the following cuts: safety Keanu Neal (saves $6.5 million in 2010), defensive end Allen Bailey (saves $4.5), tackle Ty Sambrailo (saves $3.7 million), tight end Luke Stocker (saves $2.6 million) and backup quarterback Matt Schuab (saves $2 million).

That’s a total of $19.3 million the Falcons could save under the cap. With that and some contract restructures, the Falcons could get up to $30 million.

Jake Fromm looks to pass while Warren Ericson blocks against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in New Orleans.
Jake Fromm looks to pass while Warren Ericson blocks against Baylor in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in New Orleans.

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

7. Fromm exclusive. Former Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm discussed his decision to leave early with our Chip Towers. He decision was difficult. Wonder if he would have stayed if he knew they were changing play callers.

If the Falcons get rid of Schaub, they could replace him with Fromm, who’s considered a second-day (second- or third-round) draft pick.

8. Falcons' Draft order. The NFL draft is set for April 23-25 in Las Vegas.

The Falcons have four picks in the top 100 picks of the draft.

Here are all of Falcons’ picks:  Round 1, No. 16 overall; Round 2, No. 47 overall; Round 2, No. 55 overall; Round 3, No. 78 overall; Round 4, No. 109 overall; Round 5, No. 140 overall and Round 7, No. 206 overall.

9. Falcons free agent list. Here's a list of potential Falcons free agents:

Unrestricted free agents  Defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley, defensive tackle Jack Crawford, punter Matt Bosher, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, quarterback Matt Schaub (club option), wide receiver Justin Hardy, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson, safety/linebacker Kemal Ishmael, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, safety J.J. Wilcox, defensive end Steven Means, running back Kenjon Barner, fullback Keith Smith, safety John Cyprien, punter Ryan Allen, cornerback Jamar Taylor, tight end Austin Hooper, defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, offensive lineman John Wetzel, safety Sharrod Neasman, quarterback Matt Simms and offensive guard/center Wes Schweitzer.

Restricted free agents – Defensive tackle Michael Bennett, kicker Younghoe Koo and running back Brian Hill.

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