NFC South Team Needs: Offseason Analysis

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With Superbowl LV in the books and teams mostly solidified with their coaching and front office staff, we can start to look at team needs as we enter the off-season. The NFC South enters the off-season boasting both the Superbowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a wild card and divisional winner New Orleans Saints. The Carolina Panthers experienced growing pains in Matt Rhule’s inaugural season as head coach. The Atlanta Falcons continued their trend of division bottom dwellers and it ultimately cost Dan Quinn his job. 

The following will breakdown the overall team needs heading into the off-season. I will explore potential fits in free agency and potential draft targets. I will also look at potential trade candidates where applicable. Coaching scheme and play style will be taken into account when referencing these targets, for example, a zone-blocking run scheme should not be targeting a mauling blocker. With the basics covered, let’s delve into the division winner needs to kick us off.

New Orleans Saints

The Saints yet again experienced disappointment in the playoffs after a dominant regular-season showing. They were sent home for the 4th straight year by the eventual champion Buccaneers after thoroughly dominating them in both regular-season contests. Questions will begin this off-season regarding the status of Drew Brees and whether he ends up retiring or not. The Saints also lost assistant head coach Dan Campbell to the Lions. The talent on the roster is evident and they should return to the playoffs next year barring something unforeseen.

Team needs: DB, WR, EDGE, LB, QB

Draft capital: 1:28, 2:60, 3:99, 3:107, 4:135, 6:219

Pending FA’s: Jameis Winston, Jared Cook, Trey Hendrickson, Sheldon Rankins, Alex Anzalone, Marcus Williams, PJ Williams

Salary Cap space: (25.5 million)

The Saints enter the off-season with the worst cap situation in the NFL. They have already received help from Brees when he restructured his current deal to save them $24 million. As somewhat of a surprise, they applied the franchise tag to safety Marcus Williams shortly before the deadline.

They will still need to move some money around by restructuring or releasing some veterans (Kwon Alexander, Jared Cook, Emmanuel Sanders, and Janoris Jenkins have all been cut slashing their negative cap in half). Extending Marshon Lattimore and Ryan Ramczyk should free up money as well. Look for them to address most of their roster needs in the draft.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Superbowl champion Buccaneers enter the off-season looking to do what no team has in 20+ years, repeat as champions. They will be well-positioned to do just that with a roster stacked with talent, so long as Tom Brady returns for his 20th NFL season. Head coach Bruce Arians had been quoted during the year as “allowing Brady to coach and be himself” which should only help convince Brady to stick around. 

Team needs: IDL, LB, EDGE, IOL

Draft capital: 1:32, 2:64, 3:96, 4:139, 5:178, 6:218, 7:253, 7:261

Pending FA’s: Leonard Fournette, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh

Salary Cap space: (5.5 million)

The road to repeat won’t be an easy one for “Tompa Bay” as they have numerous key contributors set to be free agents. The Buccaneers have got an early jump on bringing back some of their core. The franchise tag was applied to Godwin, but look for the team to try and work out a long-term deal. Lavonte David was also brought back on a new contract to help maintain some level of consistency on defense.

They do have some cap space to play with and players like Mike Evans who expressed an eagerness to redo his deal if it can help keep the core of the team together. Look for the team to get creative in FA and fill in the rest of the roster in the draft.

Carolina Panthers

The Panthers showed a promising future in 2020 under Rhule keeping most of their games competitive and close throughout the year. They did this without arguably their best player, Christian McCaffery, for the large majority of the year. Rhule will need to find a long-term solution at the quarterback position this off-season, having already struck out on Stafford. 

Team needs: QB, DB, OT, TE, LB

Draft capital: 1:8, 2:39, 3:73, 4:115, 5:153, 6:194, 6:223, 6:227

Pending FA’s: Mike Davis, Curtis Samuel, Taylor Morton, Russell Okung, John Miller, Chris Reed, Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder

Salary Cap space: 24 million

The Panthers need to continue to build their young core, specifically finding their quarterback in this year’s draft. They have been mocked Justin Fields and Trey Lance the most at pick 8, but will most likely need to move up to secure “their guy”. After getting their QB I anticipate they will focus on solidifying the defense in the draft.

They got an early start on free agency by applying the franchise tag to Taylor Morton to solidify their quarterback of the future’s potential blind side. They will also likely target a relatively robust free agency class of DB and IOL with their available cap space. Resigning one of their tackles should be a priority too, especially if they draft their quarterback of the future.

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons stumbled at the start of the season and weren’t able to overcome their struggles on the defensive side of the ball which resulted in the firing of general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn after week 5. In comes, Arthur Smith, a former offensive coordinator with the Titans, to take the helm and return the franchise to the Superbowl. With a talented roster on offense, he should be able to bring better balance than the often “pass” heavy regimes of the past. The defense will be the crux for how far this team ultimately goes. 

Team needs: LB, EDGE, DB, S, IOL, RB

Draft capital: 1:4, 2:35, 3:68, 4:110, 5:150, 5:181, 5:184, 6:188, 6:220

Pending FA’s: Todd Gurley, Alex Mack, Charles Harris, Darqueze Dennard, Keanu Neal, Damontae Kazee

Salary Cap space: (14.1 million)

The Falcons are another team that will need to be creative to open up cap space and have a few players prime to be restructured or cut (Dante Fowler and Ricardo Allen (update: Allen has been cut) cuts would save just over $14 million). Most of the help for them will come in the draft and I anticipate it to be defense-heavy.

If Atlanta stays with pick #4 they will most likely select the draft’s first defensive player. They will hope a QB needy team will come calling with a package of draft picks to move back a few spots in the first round. This way they will be better equipped to fill the numerous holes on their defense with potential opening day starters.