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NFC South Free Agency Preview

NFL Free Agency Preview

NFL Free Agency PreviewThe following is a 2019 NFL Free Agency breakdown written by Anthony Cervino. Throughout this NFL Free Agency preview, Anthony tries to identify team needs from each and every NFL franchise. He also takes a stab at trying to accurately predict logical landing spots for impending free agents and connect the dots for some surprising moves that we may not see coming.

NFC South Free Agency Preview

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Salary Cap Space: $8,482,607

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • LB Kwon Alexander (25)
  • S Chris Conte (30)
  • QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (36)
  • CB Brent Grimes (35)
  • RB Jacquizz Rodgers (29)
  • OT Donovan Smith (25) — re-signed to a three-year deal
  • S Andrew Adams (26) — RFA
  •  CB Javien Elliott (25) — RFA
  • OT Leonard Wester (26) — RFA
  • RB Peyton Barber (25) — RFA
  • RT Demar Dotson (33) — Tampa picked up his option for 2019
  • LB Devante Bond (25) — re-signed to a one-year deal
Team Needs:

Running Back — Since last year’s second-round pick Ronald Jones struggled mightily in his rookie season and the fact that Peyton Barber is a restricted free agent, there is a good chance that Bruce Arians targets an every-down back in free agency. And while Le’Veon Bell is a no-brainer, the Buccaneers are at the bottom 10 in cap space and may not be able to make it work financially. If Arians want to bring in a potential three-down back who can be a presence in the passing game, they may not have to look very far. Tevin Coleman, who played well against Tampa Bay in his career with the Falcons, could be a perfect fit with the Bucs and for what Arians wants to do to turnaround one of the most inefficient backfields in the league.

Quarterback — Since Ryan Fitzpatrick could very well walk via free agency. Plus, the fact that Jameis Winston is entering his walk year and is no way a lock to keep his job post-2019, the Buccaneers are very much in the QB market. While Winston is a lock to start the year, his erratic play and poor decision making could get him benched for the second straight season. In that scenario, the Buccaneers must have a quality QB2 in place who can go out and win games should Winston struggle in Arians’ system. While I don’t see them drafting one, Teddy Bridgewater is available in on the open market and would be a nice safety blanket behind Winston’s liabilities and could also push him for the starting job in training camp.

Secondary — With Chris Conte and Brent Grimes headed to free agency, the Bucs will have to find a way to replace two key role players from a defensive backfield that surrendered the seventh-most passing yards (4151) in 2018. In dire need of an upgrade, the Buccaneers could be a prime landing spot for Tyrann Mathieu, who played for both HC Bruce Arians and DC Todd Bowles with the Cardinals. In fact, Arians were the head coach and Bowles was the defensive coordinator in Arizona back in 2013 when they took a shot and selected Mathieu despite his off the field baggage in that year’s draft.

Notable Additions:
  • RB Andre Ellington — signed an undisclosed deal

New Orleans Saints

Salary Cap Space: $11,279,197

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • OT Jermon Bushrod (34)
  • S Kurt Coleman (31) — released
  • LB Craig Robertson (31)
  • LB Manti Te’o (28)
  • CB P.J. Williams (25)
  • QB Teddy Bridgewater (26)
  • WR Dez Bryant (30)
  • TE Michael Hoomanawanui (30)
  • RB Mark Ingram (29)
  • DE Alex Okafor (28)
  • TE Ben Watson (38) — retired
  • CB Ken Crawley (26) — RFA
  • K Wil Lutz (24) — RFA
  • WR Tommylee Lewis (26) — RFA
Team Needs:

Tight End — While the Saints had already extended Josh Hill, who is normally a blocking tight end, and suggested that they expect him to open 2019 as the starter, there remains a need at the position. And since Benjamin Watson is retiring, only Garrett Griffin and Dan Arnold, a converted wideout, are left to round out their tight end depth chart. Drew Brees needs help at pass-catcher and a versatile and reliable tight end should be at the top of New Orleans’ needs list this offseason. Coming off of a career year — he recorded a 68/896/6 stat line on 101 targets — 32-year-old Jared Cook would be an intriguing addition to Brees’ arsenal. Since Cook could want to pursue a championship at this juncture of his career, New Orleans makes for an ideal landing spot for all parties involved.

Quarterback — While Drew Brees is coming off of a monster season, the Saints are likely to lose Teddy Bridgewater in free agency, which will create a void at QB2. And since Brees just turned the ripe age of 40 and rumors of retirement have flurried in recent memory, the Saints will have to address their future at some point. However, I don’t think that point will come to fruition this offseason via the draft. Instead, I believe the Saints will bring in a quality QB2 to immediately back up Brees in the event of injury while Taysom Hill maintains his swiss-army knife-like roll in the offense. If Josh McCown elects to continue his playing carer, he would be a nice fit behind Brees. His brother Luke McCown backed up Brees from 2013-2015.

Defensive Line — Since DE Alex Okafor and DL Tyeler Davison are impending free agents. Plus, the fact that Sheldon Rankins suffered a torn Achilles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs against the Eagles, making him a strong candidate to open the year on the PUP list, the Saints should address their defensive line, more so the interior D-line, in free agency or the draft. However, since they are thirsty for picks due to the Marcus Davenport trade in last year’s draft, I think they will end up bolstering their D-line depth in free agency. A front seven that surrendered the second-fewest yards rushing (1,283) while accounting for the fifth-most sacks (49), the Saints must replenish this unit for 2019. Coming off of a down year in Green Bay in which he landed on the injured reserve list September with an ankle injury, Muhammad Wilkinson makes for a great fit in New Orleans as his upside would likely come at a discounted and non-guaranteed rate.

 

 

Carolina Panthers

Salary Cap Space: $19,550,083

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • S Mike Adams (38)
  • LB Thomas Davis (36)
  • CB Captain Munnerlyn (31) — released
  • WR Devin Funchess (24)
  • C Ryan Kalil (34)
  • OT Daryl Williams (26)
  • RB Kenjon Barner (29)
  • RB Travaris Cadet (30)
  • K Chandler Catanzaro (28)
  • OL Amini Silatolu (30)
  • RB Fozzy Whitaker (30)
  • OT Marshall Newhouse (30)
  • WR Damiere Byrd (26) — RFA
  • TE Chris Manhertz (27) — re-signed (two-year, $2.3 million)
Team Needs:

Running Back — While the Panthers employ one of the league’s elite backs in Christian McCaffrey, they don’t have very much behind him. And because Fozzy Whittaker, Travaris Cadet, and Kenjon Barner are free agents, the Panthers must look to add quality depth behind him, especially since CMC has a 5’11/205-pound frame and handled 321 touches in 2018. If McCaffrey misses significant time, the Panthers could flush their season down the toilet. While I don’t see Carolina making a splash addition, they could be in the market to bring in reliable depth. Free agent running backs that include Rod Smith, Alfred Morris, and Mike Davis are all used to playing in a supporting cast role and could get the job done should the unforeseen happen with McCaffrey.

Wide Receiver — While the Panthers dealt with a lot of adversity on the offensive line in 2018 — they lost both starting tackles Ryan Kalil and Daryl Williams for the year due to preseason knee injuries — they still managed to finish as PFF’s No. 17 ranked unit in the league. And since they’ll likely lose Williams and Marshall Newhouse in free agency, expect the Panthers to add some new faces along their front five. However, because they’ve made it incredibly known that they will not re-sign Devin Funchess this offseason, a need for at receiver will open up. Although D.J. Moore looks like he could be something and Curtis Samuel is developing into a versatile playmaker in his own right, a third wideout could be useful in today’s NFL. Torrey Smith dealt with injuries last season and isn’t getting any younger. And with the uncertainties at tight end, that third option — fourth if you include CMC — may not be on the roster right now. They may not be sexy additions, but depth players that include Rishard Matthews and Terrance Williams could end up with the Panthers in a move that could happen during the second wave of free agency. They could also take a blast in the past and target journeyman WR Brandon LaFell, who the Panthers drafted back in 2010 and still can play pretty well at 32.

Safety — With Mike Adams on his way out the door, the Panthers will look to add some younger blood at safety. Since this is a safety-rich market, the Panthers could get a top-end player at a slightly discounted rate. The could possibly look to bring back Kurt Coleman, who left Carolina to play for the Saints in 2018 only to be released after one season. While Coleman’s play is on the decline, he is a value option who already knows the system. Eric Washington, the team’s new defensive coordinator is familiar with Coleman. Washington was the Panthers’ defensive line coach from 2011-2017 before being promoted to DC this offseason.

Notable Additions:
  • RB Elijah Hood — re-signed
  • WR Torrey Smith — picked up his 2019 option

Atlanta Falcons

Salary Cap Space: $26,679,374

Notable Impending Free Agents:

  • RB Tevin Coleman (26)
  • DT Grady Jarrett (25) — received the franchise tag
  • G Andy Levitre (33)
  • QB Matt Schaub (37) — re-signed to a two-year deal
  • K Matt Bryant (43) — released
  • DE Bruce Irvin (31)
  • DT Terrell McClain (30)
  •  DE Derrick Shelby (29)
  • CB Brian Poole (26) — RFA
Team Needs and Potential Fits:

Quarterback — It might be time for the Falcons to address the quarterback position behind Matt Ryan. While Ryan is coming off one of the best seasons of his career, he is entering his age-34 campaign and his immediate backup, Matt Schaub, isn’t getting any younger either. And although the Falcons extended the 38-year-old Schaub at the combine, bringing in some young blood to develop at the position wouldn’t be such a bad idea. The Falcons have a ton of talent and could begin to take a look into the future by adding a QB in the draft without crippling themselves at another position.

Guard — With Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco both dealing with extended injuries last season — they were both placed on IR in September and October respectively — the Falcons’ inside running game struggled. If Atlanta believes they have enough firepower to win immediately — they do — it might be in their best interest to address this need in free agency by landing a proven veteran like Roger Saffold or Mike Iupati to pair alongside Alex Mack over going younger and developing one through the draft as it is never a slam dunk.

Defensive Line — The Falcons don’t have a ton of holes, but they do have four defensive linemen primed to hit the open market. DT Grady Jarrett, pass rusher Bruce Irvin, DE Derrick Shelby and DT Terrell McClain accounted for a combined 10.5 of Atlanta’s 22nd ranked 37 sacks last season and must improve on that number to compete with the overwhelmingly talented QB play in the NFC South. If the Falcons lose Grady Jarrett, who will get paid on the open market if the Falcons don’t tag him or work out a long term deal, the immediate need would open up on the interior of their line. Perhaps they pursue Sheldon Richardson or Jonathan Hankins in that scenario, who both could be had at a lesser rate than Jarrett.

 

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