Continuing with our free agency previews, it’s time to look at the NFC South. This division has four teams with some sort of star power, yet since no team has $20 million in cap space, they are all likely to be quiet during free agency. Still, it could be a small move that turns out to be the difference maker, so these teams cannot afford to sit tight this offseason. Let’s preview free agency for the NFC South!
New Orleans Saints
Top Needs: WR, TE, CB
The Saints are coming off a 13-3 season and are returning practically the same roster next season. That’s fortunate; they only have $10 million in cap space. Looking ahead, however, New Orleans could desperately use another receiver outside of Michael Thomas, since no player at the position beside him reached 500 receiving yards. Furthermore, the Saints offense has missed having a vertical threat down the seam since they traded Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks. They should look to finally fill that void this offseason. Outside of that, New Orleans does not have a glaring need, but we’ll nitpick and say that they could stand to add another cornerback; they have little depth outside of their three starting corners. Still, this is a very well rounded team, and a quiet offseason can be expected for a team with limited assets in financial and draft pick capital.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: QB Teddy Bridgewater
New Orleans has yet to find their quarterback of the future after Drew Brees retires, and without a first round pick, that won’t be able to happen in the draft. Luckily for the Saints, they have Brees’ successor already on the roster with Teddy Bridgewater. The 26-year-old did not play in the 2016 season due to a knee injury, missed most of the 2017 season, and then sat behind Brees in 2018 after being traded to New Orleans. Still, in that 2015 season, Bridgewater led the Vikings to a division title and made the Pro Bowl. He’s shown the ability to be a starter in this league, and with it unclear if he’ll get a starting chance elsewhere in free agency, New Orleans should convince him to sit behind Brees for one more season before taking over the following year.
Top Free Agent Target: WR Tyrell Williams
The Saints need a vertical threat who can take the attention away from Thomas. Who better than Williams, who possesses a perfect size-speed combo at 6’4’’ with blazing speed. With that frame, he could be a terrific red zone threat for Thomas, and could easily go for receiving yards, thriving in one on one matchups. With 1,059 receiving yards with the Chargers as recently as 2016, Williams has shown he’s ready to take on a more sizable role, and this looks to be a perfect fit for both the player and the team. All of a sudden, one of New Orleans’ biggest weaknesses last year would become a strength. If they find the finances to make a run at Williams, they should 100% go for it.
Top Needs: G, EDGE, LB
Due to several injuries last season, the Falcons fell flat with a 7-9 record. Don’t let this fool you; they are still one of the most talented teams in the NFL. In fact, they have less obvious holes on paper than the Saints do. Still, Atlanta desperately needs help on the offensive line, especially in the interior. Matt Ryan faced too much interior pressure last season, and the Falcons should look to upgrade at both left guard and right guard. On defense, they finished just 22nd with 37 sacks, with edge rushers Takkarist McKinley and Vic Beasley combining for just 12 sacks. Atlanta should look to solidify their defense with a star edge rusher; it’s the only true defensive need. Since we have to look at a third need, I’ll also say they could upgrade at linebacker over Duke Riley, who rated as below average from Pro Football Focus. If the Falcons want to turn their defense into an elite unit, look for them to try to compliment Deion Jones and De’Vondre Campbell with another starting-caliber linebacker. With just around $8 million in cap space, Atlanta will need to be creative to upgrade at these spots, but they are still set for next season as a playoff contender regardless.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: G Ben Garland
The 30-year-old filled in terrifically on Atlanta’s offensive line last season, rating as Pro Football Focus’ 14th rankled guard. Obviously, the Falcons maybe should not count on him to be the starter with a limited track record, but he does give them a possible option along the interior and provides depth. Plus, it’s very unlikely he’ll demand anything more than a one year, affordable AAV type deal.
Top Free Agent Target: G Ramon Foster
Foster has been a staple on the Steelers’ offensive line for a long time. In 2018, the 33-year-old remained an above average starter with a 69.1 grade from Pro Football Focus and has played for an offense with a lot of similarities to the Falcons. He’ll also come at an affordable price for a player of his caliber given his age, and Atlanta should make him their top priority this offseason.
Top Needs: OL, WR, DE
While the Saints and Falcons seem to be the front-runners in this division, the Panthers should definitely be considered to be in the mix for a division title. There is still a lot of talent on this team on both sides of the ball, but for now, they are definitely a step behind the top dogs in this division. That’s due to some massive holes, and none bigger than on the offensive line. Three of their five starters are either set for free agency (Daryl Williams, Amini Silatolu) or are retiring (Ryan Kalil). Meanwhile, Matt Kalil was a major liability at left tackle, and it’s no wonder that Cam Newton had to miss the final two games with a shoulder injury. Until the offensive line is fixed, Carolina is not making a deep playoff run, but the same can be said about the state of receivers. They will not be bringing Devin Funchess back, which is a concern since DJ Moore was the only starting caliber receiver on this roster. They should look to add two reliable targets in order to put Newton in the best position to succeed. Then, the Panthers need to find a way to get more pressure on the edges; they ranked 27th in sacks a year ago. Obviously, the draft this year is filled with pass rushers, but if Carolina wants to contend in 2019, then they should try to sign an impact free agent who could provide a huge jolt the team’s pass rush. Like the other teams in this division, the Panthers only have around $17 million in cap space, but this cannot be an excuse to sit out free agency. This team has a lot of obvious needs, and cannot afford to leave them unaddressed.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: T Daryl Williams
The 26-year-old Williams suffered a knee injury and missed all but one game in 2018, but before that, he was one of the top right tackles in football. Carolina should recognize that and retain him rather than let him walk due to concern about the injury. He played every game in 2017, proving his durability, and the Panthers can use the injury as a way to get him at a bargain price. Hey need to protect Newton anyway possible, and keeping Williams has to be in their plans.
Top Free Agent Target: C Matt Paradis
The 30-year-old Paradis ranked as the second best center in football last season, despite missing seven games with a fractured fibula, according to Pro Football Focus. Players have his caliber rarely become available in the offensive trenches in free agency, but due to John Elway’s strange ineptness towards running the Broncos in a functional matter, Carolina will have the opportunity to acquire a game-changing player up front. The seven games Paradis missed this season were the first of his career, and Carolina are in desperate need of a consistent, durable center who can both protect Newton and open up running lanes for Christian McCaffrey, It’s a perfect fit, and would definitely be a letdown, if the Panthers did not aggressively pursue the star center.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Top Needs: CB, RB, LB
After hiring head coach Bruce Arians, there is some optimism in the building for the Buccaneers. Still, this is a team that just finished last in the division with a 5-11 record, and has just $15 million in cap space. The whole defense is a mess after ranking 27th in yards allowed, and an overhaul needs to happen at the cornerback position after allowing the sixth most passing yards in 2018. Carlton Davis struggled last season, while Vernon Hargreaves would greatly benefit with a full-time move inside as a slot corner. Therefore, Tampa Bay needs to add at least one starting-caliber corner, and another who could at the very worst be a depth piece. Sticking with the defense, the Buccaneers’ linebacking corps is weak and stands to lose Kwon Alexander, who wasn’t that effective anyway. Like corner, the Bucs need to make drastic changes at linebacker, and two new impact starters would be recommended if possible. Tampa Bay also ranked second-worst in the NFL in yards per carry last season, and a brand-new running back would take a tremendous amount of pressure off of quarterback Jameis Winston, who’s heading into a make-or-break season. It’s unlikely the Bucs are able to make the changes necessary to compete in this division with so little cap space, so expect them to get creative to try to build a winner around Arians. The coaching staff is in place, but can the front office find a way to get them the talent they need? That remains a major question mark as we head towards free agency.
Player They Need To Re-Sign: K Cairo Santos
The 27-year-old Santos has a career field goal percentage of 83.2%, and while he struggled with just a 75% field goal percentage during his time with Tampa Bay, he remains one of the most reliable and accurate kickers in football. By re-signing Santos, the Bucs can stabilize their special teams without having to potentially overpay to acquire a top kicker in the open market. It’s not sexy, but this move is actually somewhat critical towards trying to win in 2019.
Top Free Agent Target: CB Pierre Desir
The 28-year-old Desir was a star for the Colts last season, ranking as the 18th best corner in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. With his ability to play press man coverage with terrific recovery speed, he’s an ideal fit in defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme. Some teams may be concerned with his limited track record of success, but instead of worrying, Tampa Bay should look at signing Desir as a chance to acquire a starting-caliber corner with #1 corner upside at a cheaper than normal price. This would be an amazing acquisition for a team that is desperate for help in the secondary.