Free Agency 2011 – Two Views on the NFC South

| July 21, 2011

Joining the NFC West in today’s look at free agency is the NFC South, home to the 2009 Super Bowl Champions and a division that is constantly turning itself on its head year upon year. This year’s free agency will go some way to helping that trend for yet another year.
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Some of these teams stand to lose marquee names, and others are likely to be shopping for some big names themselves, including the possibility of upgrading at the expense of a divisional rival.
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PFF’s Sam Monson and Khaled Elsayed take a walk through the divisiojn with an eye on free agency.

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Atlanta Falcons
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: Somehow, the Falcons allowed more than one of their offensive lineman to become unrestricted free agents in the same off-season. They need to set about retaining one of them, because the line is fundamental to what the Falcons do on offense. I’d lean towards locking up Dahl.

Khaled: Pick a lineman, any lineman. They all have their merits, though given what the market thinks of Clabo and Dahl (namely that they’re better than they are), Justin Blalock makes the most sense for a team like Atlanta.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: They went to task on the offense in the draft, with a blockbuster move for Julio Jones, so it’s time to turn attention towards the D, and fast. I think they need to add a pass-rushing threat to the one that John Abraham brings.

Khaled: The Falcons got pass rush so I don’t think it’s the biggest need. It’s an area they could upgrade, but they lost to the Packers because their back seven couldn’t cover. I’d really like to see them pick up a slot corner since they got such little production in coverage from that position.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: Ray Edwards makes a lot of sense – he’s basically the player they could never coax Jamaal Anderson into becoming, but would the prospect of adding a player with a potentially higher ceiling, and robbing their divisional rivals of a stud at the same time be too much to hope for – Charles Johnson would be a big coup.

Khaled: Chris Carr would be a really interesting under-the-radar signing for Atlanta. Someone like him or Drew Coleman are decent enough in coverage, with the added benefit of having experience rushing the passer. The Falcons love the zone blitz as much as I love cardigans (and I do love cardigans I’m told), so they need any slot cornerback they have to be able to do that effectively.
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Carolina Panthers
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: It’s Charles Johnson and it’s not even close. No disrespect to Ryan Kalil, who is a very good center, but Charles Johnson is coming off an elite year at a premium position. How do you let him hit free agency?

Sam: Charles Johnson. No discussion needed. Get to it!
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: They’ve invested some draft picks at defensive tackle, but it’s asking a lot to think it will just work out for them there. They need to get better up front, especially if they lose Johnson. Derek Landri got some push early in the season, but for the rest of the year, they got no inside penetration from their tackles.

Sam: Quarterback torpedoed their season in 2010, but they’re going to hope Cam Newton fixes that, and while the D needs some work, I think they need to give the QB some receiving weapons, especially if Steve Smith leaving is really a possibility.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: They really should have got themselves in the Shaun Rogers sweepstakes when it was going on. Instead, they won’t find anyone with that kind of explosiveness to their game. Brandon Mebane has that, and is very handy in the run game. His ability to get up field and make plays is what this team needs.

Sam: Sidney Rice is as dominant a receiver as there is, and has the ball skills to bail out a QB with errant throws. He also played his college ball in the Carolinas for what that’s worth (probably not much).
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New Orleans Saints
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Sam: New Orleans seems to have half the roster as free agents. Luckily for them it seems to be the weaker half. As much as I’m really not a fan of Jermon Bushrod, without an obvious replacement, I couldn’t let him walk.

Khaled: I would let Bushrod walk because the Saints have proven they can get away with a starting left tackle who practically invites pass rushers to the quarterback. They’d be much better off keeping Roman Harper, or my personal favorite Lance Moore. Moore makes his quarterback better, and given the other receivers on their roster, offers something a bit different.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Sam: Anywhere on D. The Saints D has been relying on smoke and mirrors for too long and it’s caught up to them. They need to add some legitimate players there, at outside linebacker especially.

Khaled: I do worry about the linebacker group. They’ve brought in Shaun Rogers, so they look set to have a defensive line that will either get a tackle for a loss or leave their linebackers horribly exposed.  Quite the predicament when your linebackers aren’t so hot at shedding blocks. They need a linebacker who can play the run.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Sam: Let’s raid the division again and take Quincy Black off Tampa Bay’s hands. Black isn’t a superstar, but he is in comparison to the play the Saints have had at OLB for the past few years. Slot him in and it’s a big upgrade.

Khaled: I won’t disagree that Black wouldn’t be an upgrade, but given the issues New Orleans has, I think Justin Durant is a great fit here. Get him going forward and he’s a heck of player. Though I wonder if the Saints will worry about being burnt in consecutive turns by former Jaguar linebackers.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Which player do they need to re-sign?

Khaled: As it stands, they’re reliant on two rookies (one with a bad knee) for their outside pass rush. So, while Stylez White may not be able to handle being a number one guy, they really should keep him as part of the rotation. He’s extremely effective as a situational option.

Sam: Everybody says Davin Joseph has to be the guy, he’s a dominant player when healthy, but the tape has never shown that, and I’m not buying it. I agree that they need to realize what they have in White and spend to keep his pass-rush on board.
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What area is the team’s biggest need to upgrade?

Khaled: They’re young on the offensive line, but not super talented. Joseph may have one of the most undeserved reputations in the league, while Jeff Faine has never earned his contract. They have a chance to let some team overpay for Joseph, and possibly look at the right tackle spot as well.

Sam: Their O-line play last season was terrible, making the seasons Freeman and Blount enjoyed all the more remarkable – think what they could do with some legitimate blocking in front of them? They also have a concerning hole developing at CB, especially with Talib’s legal issues.
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How do they upgrade that area?

Khaled: I really like the Marshal Yanda fit for his talent and flexibility. But he seems to have his heart set on staying in Baltimore. If they aren’t adverse to getting a tad older, and can handle an injury risk, Damien Woody has the kind of talent to make life easier for Josh Freeman and LeGarrette Blount.

Sam: Luckily the Bucs are likely swimming in cap room, so much so that they’re likely to be compelled to spend at least $30m just to meet the cap floor, so I say they attack both problems. The winner of the Asomugha sweepstakes? Why not. While we’re at it, let’s go after Willie Colon to settle the issues at RT.
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Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled, and for Sam, it’s: @SamMonson … and be sure to follow our main Twitter feed as well: @ProFootbalFocus
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