Following are some whispers we've been hearing from around the NFC South:
• With Saints rookie TE Jimmy Graham getting more involved on offense in the late stages of the regular season, we hear TE Jeremy Shockey is looking more and more expendable. Shockey's contract runs through next season, and the team isn't expected to approach him about working on an extension in the offseason.
• The Falcons' Tony Gonzalez is still one of the more productive tight ends in the league and he has another year left on his contract, but the 14th-year veteran is no lock to return for another season. Gonzalez, who will turn 35 in February, recently said he's thought about retiring after this season. Just how far the Falcons go in the playoffs could play a significant role in his decision on whether to continue playing.
• Saints DT Sedrick Ellis is on the verge of completing his first full 16-game season after missing time in each of his first two years because of injuries, and one team observer said this has, without a doubt, been the best season of his career. Ellis, the seventh overall pick in 2008, leads the Saints in sacks with six after he made six sacks total in his first two seasons combined.
• The Buccaneers should be a more attractive option for free agents next offseason with a talented, young nucleus of players who proved they can win this year and a young, energetic head coach on the rise in Raheem Morris. We hear the team will be more willing to spend in free agency, but it's still more interested in using its resources on the draft and to re-sign or extend the contracts of its own key players.