It is the slowest time of the year for pro football fans. Free agency has long passed its excitement levels, and the NFL Draft has come and gone. Now we have over a month to go before our teams report to training camp, and the news has been practically nil. The most exciting news we have gotten lately, is that the NFL will not be using the Roman numeral “L”, as part of their logo for the 50th Super Bowl.
So just how did the NFL teams do this offseason? Well, that’s what I’ll be writing about over these next few weeks before training camp opens. I will review each team’s activity in both free agency and the draft (complete with letter grades) and write up a final overview. Each write up will feature one article per division. To start things off, this piece will look at the NFC South Division.
Free Agency: Defense is what the Falcons sought and that’s what they got in Dolphins DT Paul Soliai & Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson. Soliai adds an extra veteran presence, while the disappointing former first round pick Jackson, will look for a fresh start on a new team. Cardinals CB Javier Arenas will get more opportunities, and should be a starter. On the offensive side, the Falcons hit it big by landing prized OG Jon Asamoah of the Chiefs. They also added Bears veteran WR Devin Hester, who could be a good 3rd alternative, if he can catch the ball.
Draft: Texas A&M OT Jake Matthews is regarded as one of the top O-Lineman and should be a mainstay for years to come. Minnesota DT Ra’Shede Hageman adds more bulk and youth to an already stout D-Line. Wisconsin S Dezmen Southward, helps fill a need, but was quite a reach in the 3rd round. Florida State RB Devonta Freeman should add some much needed versatility in the backfield, while Notre Dame LB Prince Shembo was a good value pick in the 4th round. Purdue CB Ricardo Allen & Connecticut LB Yawin Smallwood, could be late round steals.
Overview: Injuries destroyed the Falcons last year, but their troubles paid off with high draft picks. Jake Matthews should protect QB Matt Ryan for a long time, and adding Jon Asamoah to the O-Line was huge. WR’s Julio Jones & Roddy White need to stay healthy, as does RB Steven Jackson, who is not getting any younger. On defense, the addition of Hageman and retaining DT’s Peria Jerry & Jonathan Babineaux will help the Falcons significantly. The Linebacker position needs depth badly, which is why the Falcons drafted 4 LB’s this year.
Free Agency: After losing 4 of their Wide Receivers, the Panthers had to replenish that position. Enter Jason Avant (Eagles), Jerricho Cotchery (Steelers) & Tiquan Underwood (Buccaneers). Not big names, but the pickings were slim. Tight End Ed Dickson of the Ravens is another potential receiving threat. Safeties Thomas DeCoud (Falcons) & Roman Harper (Saints), should help the Panthers depleted secondary.
Draft: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin has potential, fills a need, but is also a questionable pick. Benjamin has the size, but is not the deep threat the Panthers sorely need, and was surprisingly the only WR the Panthers drafted. Missouri DE Kony Ealy is a surprising pick, but there is no denying the threat he brings to the D-Line. Safety Tre Boston of North Carolina adds much needed depth & San Jose State CB Bene Benwikere could be a surprise.
Overview: Long time Panther WR Steve Smith is gone, as are 3 other WR’s. So who is Cam Newton going to throw to? Three journeyman WR’s, a tall rookie with questions of his desire to play football & 2nd year receiver Marvin McNutt will not strike fear in the hearts of opposing defenses. The Panthers will need their defense to step up big. Pairing rookie DE Kony Ealy with the likes of Greg Hardy & Charles Johnson is a scary combination. Again, why did the Panthers only draft one WR?
Free Agency: The Saints surprised the entire league when they landed Bills FS Jairus Byrd. To add some insurance to their secondary, they also added Broncos CB Champ Bailey. The secondary is indeed a strength.
Draft: Oregon State WR Brandin Cooks fills a big need and the Saints are hoping he can be an immediate impact. The secondary got some much needed depth with Nebraska CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste & Alabama Safety Vinnie Sunseri.
Overview: The Saints are doing everything they can to get back to the Super Bowl. Despite some major departures in free agency, they were still able to sign Byrd & Bailey. However, disgruntled TE Jimmy Graham has still not signed his franchise tender, and QB Drew Brees will have to make due with the receivers he has at his discretion. RB Darren Sproles will be missed. The salary cap is spent as far as it can go for the Saints. They better hope their strategy pays off.
Free Agency: The Buccaneers had plenty of cap space and they were busy spenders. Bears QB Josh McCown is reunited with his former coach, and gives the Bucs some stability. The O-Line was given plenty of attention as well: C Evan Dietrich-Smith (Packers), G O’Neil Cousins (Browns) & T Anthony Collins (Bengals) are all young and form a good unit. Key defensive players include: DE Michael Johnson (Bengals), CB Alterraun Verner (Titans) & SS Major Wright (Bears). Not a lot of Pro Bowlers, but this is a solid foundation to build on.
Draft: Big WR Mike Evans from Texas A&M is being counted on to be an instant impact player. He’ll need to show that he can do more than catch the jump ball. Washington TE Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is a complete player as both a receiver and a blocker. West Virginia RB Charles Sims adds good depth and keep an eye out for speedy WR Robert Herron of Wyoming.
Overview: The biggest addition to the Buccaneers is new head coach Lovie Smith, and he has already put his stamp on the team. Releasing CB Darelle Revis and trading WR Mike Williams are just a couple of examples. Veteran QB McCown, should help the progress of 2nd year QB Mike Glennon. Tampa Bay has put together a solid group of players, whether they can make a difference in their first year, is yet to be seen.