NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) -
As a whole, no division’s made more moves in the arms race that is NFL free agency than the NFC South. From a few new faces at quarterback to new additions to the offensive arsenal, each squad made eye-opening transactions. But that said, some will make more of an impact than others. Let’s grade each team.
New Orleans Saints: B+ (with the potential to be an A)
Key additions: WR Emmanuel Sanders, S Malcolm Jenkins
Key departures: QB Teddy Bridgewater, LB AJ Klein, CB Eli Apple
The Saints helped themselves most by retaining what they needed to in order to remain a playoff contender. Drew Brees and Taysom Hill’s return mean they’re elite at quarterback once again, while keeping Andrus Peat solidifies the offensive line. To improve on that side of the ball, they added a much-needed wide receiver to pair with Michael Thomas. Emmanuel Sanders is as versatile as they come, and easily the best in the free agent receiver class.
Defensively, Malcolm Jenkins brings both experience and talent to the defensive backfield, which is necessary since it doesn’t seem likely that S Vonn Bell will return.
Still, the roster isn’t perfect, nor is it as deep as they were in 2019, yet. They’ll have to replace A.J. Klein at linebacker, and could do so in the first round of the draft.
Overall, if Taysom Hill pans out as the QB of the future, or is at least able to hold the Saints over until they have their next franchise quarterback, I’ll give this free agency period an A.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A
Key additions: QB Tom Brady
Key departures: QB Jameis Winston
It’s really that simple. I can’t give anything less than an A for adding one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, even if he’s well past 40-years old. The Buccaneers’ 28 takeaways in 2019 were fifth in the NFL. With a quarterback that won’t give all of those and more back to the other team, they’re bound to win a few more games.
And regardless of their needs at running back, in Bruce Arians (with a quality QB) we trust. They’ll air it out because they have the weapons to give any and every defense fits.
Defensively, tagging edge Shaquil Barrett, who led the league in sacks, is another positive. Alongside Jason Pierre-Paul, who’s returning as well, they’re a dangerous team on both sides of the ball. They’ll be in a lot more games, and can no longer be overlooked in this tough division.
Carolina Panthers: C+
Key additions: QB Teddy Bridgewater, WR Robby Anderson
Key departures: QB Cam Newton, DT Dontari Poe, LB Luke Kuechly, S Eric Reid
Big Teddy fan here. I think, paired with OC Joe Brady, he’ll have a solid season. But this is still a team that has a lot of improvements to make.
The departures, primarily Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly (retirement), are faces of the franchise. And typically, that’s a step backward. With new faces from head coach down to quarterback, they’ll have somewhat of a new team identity. Christian McCaffrey will still be what makes the offense go, but that only translates to so many wins.
It also doesn’t help that they’re forced to release Newton instead of getting any trade partners. That’s due to Cam’s questionable health and teams unable to get a good look at him with limited contact during the coronavirus hiatus.
That said, I do like the addition of Robby Anderson as a deep threat and big-play receiver. That was another big need, especially for Brady’s offense to flourish.
Defensively, Kuechly made up for a lot of deficiencies that could be further exposed this year. Meanwhile, Eric Reid was underrated at safety and brought a lot of experience that will be missed.
Overall, credit the Panthers for ripping the band-aid off and cutting ties with Newton, whose health only held them down. But there are still too many deficiencies to see much improvement in 2020.
Atlanta Falcons: B-
Key additions: RB Todd Gurley, Edge Dante Fowler, TE Hayden Hurst
Key departures: RB Devonta Freeman, TE Austin Hooper, Edge Vic Beasley
Honestly, I see Atlanta as being in a similar position as they were a year ago.
Looking at the glass half-full, they’re a very talented time that just needs to put it together on the field. It’s been the biggest mystery in the NFL how they’ve managed to stumble so hard. Injuries have played a role, but it shouldn’t be this bad.
However, on the flip side, they’ve replaced their departures with other question marks. Instead of Freeman, they have Gurley, who’s health is just as questionable. Hurst is a quality tight end, but how long will it take him to get the same chemistry that Hooper had with QB Matt Ryan?
Dante Fowler seems like an upgrade from Beasley, who fell off the map, but again, I’ve got to see it to believe it.
If they can add secondary help, I’d upgrade the Dirty Birds to a B. They’re truly a “time will tell” situatoin.