By: Matt Popotnik
New Orleans Saints:
Coming off of a 13-3 regular season that ended in a playoff loss to the Vikings yet again. It would seem that the Saints don’t need to make many big moves in the free agency, and that is exactly what they did. The saints aimed to sure up their roster signing players for depth more than starting roles.
The biggest signing the saints had on the offensive side of the ball is wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders will most likely slide into the number two slot on the depth chart behind All-Pro wide out Michael Thomas. On the flip side of the ball
Malcolm Jenkins was brought on to help with the secondary.
Going forward to the draft the Saints are probably the best overall team in the NFC South, so what does that mean for the draft? They take the best player available, plain, and simple. With 411 year old Drew Brees the window is closing to bring home another title for the city.
The Atlanta Falcons had a mediocre 7-9 record last season, so there is some room for improvement for this squad. Improvements needed to be made across the bored for this squad in order to get back to playoff form.
The Falcons bring in former LA Rams RB Todd Gurley to pair with former MVP QB Matt Ryan and All-Pro WR Julio Jones. Even coming off of an off-year Gurley is considered a top back in the NFL and should be a great fit in the Atlanta backfield. Dante Fowler Jr. headlines the defensive acquisitions for the Falcons. Fowler had some very productive years in Jacksonville and LA but he had help on those defenses so it will be interesting to see him own his own.
The biggest concern for the Falcons coming into the offseason should have been O-line help and they really did not accomplish that. Matt Ryan got sacked 3rd most in the league last year and they will need to improve to help their new RB find some holes. Look for some O-line help to be taken in the draft.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also finished a below average 7-9 also needed improvement in order to make it to the playoffs. The Bucs let their starting QB walk and for good reason once they replaced him. With a solid defense and one of the best wide receiving corps in the NFL the Bucs are poised to make a massive leap next season.
In perhaps the most surprising offseason move off all time future hall of famer Tom Brady has left his longtime home of New England to move down south. Not only is TB12 going to Tampa but his long time target Rob Gronkowski has come out of retirement to join him.
Out of the teams previously mentioned the Bucs have definitely improved the most but still need to improve more. Like Matt Ryan Jameis Winston got sacked a ton last season so if they want to keep Brady healthy, they need some offensive line help. Look for both a O-line man and a running back to be taken by Tampa Bay.
The Panthers finished dead last in the NFC South with a 5-11 record on the year. An injury to starting QB Cam Newton spelled disaster for the season and led to the poor record. This also led to a new head coach and former MVP Newton being released as well. On top of that All-Pro LB Luke Kuechly shocked the sports world and retired at 29 years old. All of this says one thing, rebuild.
Carolina brought in Teddy Bridgewater to replace Newton. Most would agree that this is a major downgrade at the position despite Bridgewater having a great year when he got to play. Other than resigning Christian McCaffery the Panthers did not do much this free agency when it came to improving the team.
The panthers should go full rebuild going into the draft but unfortunately the top quarterback prospects will most likely be gone by the time Carolina come up at 7. Maybe Bridgewater will surprise us now that he has another chance at a starting job.
The Texans won the division with a 10-6 record on the backs of Deshawn Watson and All-Pro wide receiver Deandre Hopkins. With a solid defense to boot the Texans look to make it back into the playoff picture next year… except.
In what is maybe the most puzzling trade in NFL history they shipped their top 3 receiver in the league to Arizona for an aging and injury prone David Johnson and some picks. Johnson when healthy can be a top back in the league but he has been unable to stay on the field for the pat few seasons. The team brought in Brandin Cooks from LA to replace Hopkins but lets be honest that like trading a Lambo for a Toyota.
Without a first round pick it would seem the Texans big moves in the offseason are done without addressing their biggest concern, offensive line help. Watson was sacked a league leading 55 times last season, aside from a few backup linemen signed they did not do anything to strengthen their line.
With a 9-7 record the Titans fought their way into a wildcard spot where they socked the league beating both the Patriots and the Ravens before being beat by the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. This team really played as one cohesive unit with lead NFL rusher Derrick Henry and with coach Mike Vrabel the Titans look to improve on what was already a great year.
The Titans had a pretty quiet offseason which is something you would come to expect from Vrabel as he did come from a Bill Belichick, who typically build up from the draft. While losing some players the Titans still did improve. They used their franchise tag on Derrick Henry to secure the star back for another year. They also brought in Vic Beasley to help an already solid defense
They did however lose starting right tackle Jack Conklin and long-time tight end Delanie Walker. The team should look to the draft to replace these to players. The Titans also should look to grab at lest one corner back to help the secondary out.
After Andrew Luck surprised everyone and retired due to injury many people thought a full rebuild could be on the way but after a decent 7-9 season maybe not so much. With Marlon Mack having a breakout year at running back and the defense being much improved from years passed the Colts are in place to make a leap and possibly win the division.
In maybe the busiest offseason covered in this article the colts made big moves on both sides of the ball. They signed long time Charger QB and Hall of Fame trash talker Philip Rivers to man the ship for the next few seasons. This obviously isn’t the long-term answer, but Rivers should excel in Indianapolis. For defense, the Colts made a massive move and traded their first-round pick for stud DT DeForest Buckner. Buckner should elevate the already solid defense to one of the best next season. Add on Xavier Rhodes in the secondary and watch out for this unit.
The Colts have just been waiting for the right guy ever since Luck got hurt a few seasons back and Rivers along with what is a very solid team should be able to take the division this year. Look for a wide receiver to be taken by the colts in this draft to help a struggling passing game.
Coming in last on the AFC South the Jags have been on a downward turn since 2017 when they almost made it to the Super Bowl. Running back Leonard Fournette, a decent passing defense and Gardner Minshew’s mustache were the only real positives this past season.
As far as free agent acquisitions the Jags did not make any big splashes. Their best signing is probably Joe Schobert at MLB. The former Cleveland Brown while a solid line backer has failed to elevate his play to the next level.
With very few moves made the Jags either look to make a quick bonce back with 2 first round picks or go for a full rebuild. With a division that is relatively open it will be very interesting to see what Jacksonville decides to do.