NFC South Free Agency Outlook

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NFC South

Atlanta Falcons [$16m]


Outlook: Surprisingly weak, for now.  I love Matt Ryan, I love what Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith have done with this team.  However, this team has their only three good offensive-lineman up for free agency (LG Blaylock, RT Clabo, and RG Dahl).  So, everything has to start with retaining them to protect Matt Ryan.  I say ‘weak, for now,’ because Dimitroff is a genius.  He will figure it out.  I think this division will belong to the Falcons and Buccaneers in the future.

My guess:  The Falcons will go hard after a pass-rusher like DE Charles Johnson or DE Ray Edwards. The Falcons will also go for a value CB like Ike Taylor or Chris Carr.  This is fortunately a lot of depth in the secondary this year.  The rest of their money will likely be spent retaining two of their three free agent offensive lineman (LG Blaylock, RT Clabo, and RG Dahl).  My guess is Dahl walks because of his age.

Carolina Panthers [$35-37m]


Outlook: Bad.  They don’t have that many needs on paper, but they could use two players in each of the need positions listed above.  OC Ryan Kalil will be resigned for top dollar, so their real cap room is more like $25m.  Most believe DE Charles Johnson and RB Deangelo Williams will leave (their best players on defense and offense, respectively), so this team better hope Cam Newton has the best rookie season in the history of the league if they want to finish with more than 5 wins.

My guess: They will start by resigning OC Ryan Kalil, which means they will likely miss out on other big free agents.  They also need to resign promising DE Charles Johnson, but they might not be able to.  This team needs a new RB, but who wants to go to this mess?  They may be able to convince older vets like RB Ronnie Brown or RB Cedric Benson.  They would also use a vet WR like Malcolm Floyd.  Otherwise, I think Carolina’s offseason is going to be disappointing, a realistic idea of things to come for Panther fans.

New Orleans Saints [$15m]


Outlook: OK.  The Saints are getting older.  I think they still have a 5-year great team window, but things don’t look great after that.  Also, the Saints have a whopping twenty-eight free agents on their 2010 roster, so most of that money has to be used to resign their own.  Reggie Bush in a gold and black uniform next year would shock me.

My guess: The Saints will have to resign their top free agents (I won’t name them all but OT Jeremy Bushrod, FB Heath Evans, CB/S Roman Harper, RB Pierre Thomas etc).  After that, I think the Saints will look for a bargain CB like Chris Carr or Ike Taylor.  The Saints like unspectacular OLBs, so I like Quincy Black as an affordable option there.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers [$52.9m]


Outlook: Fantastic. This team is young, and played well in 2010.  Though I think they played over their heads at times, this team has a ton of cap room and not a huge amount of needs.  I LOVE what they have done with their front four on D in the past two drafts.   They do have some needs though, mostly in their secondary.  Their O-Line was quietly one of the worst in the league, so look for upgrades there.  RB can be addressed as well as adding a vet receiver.  Overall, though, with youth and money, Tampa Bay may have the best team in Florida for a long time.

My guess: They could be the dark-horse for Nnamdi Asomugha, but they have said they won’t pay the price.  I do like the fit of CB Ike Taylor here though, but they could use a pair of corners.  They also need safety help, as they were beat deep far too often last year.  S Quintin Mikell would be a welcome addition.  I also think they will overpay to keep OG Davin Joseph, but what they should do, as well put on ESPN’s Matt Williamson’s podcast ‘Football Today,’ is raid the Falcon’s right side of the line (OT Tyson Clabo and OG Harvey Dahl).