FA Recap: NFC South

Now that the majority of free agency has died down its time to see if the NFC South teams have improved since the end of the 2014 season with Kevin ...

| 2 years ago

FA Recap: NFC South

As free agency starts to slow down, it’s time to take inventory of last week’s craziness. The moves were fast and furious (and perhaps a bit premature), as a few teams were extremely aggressive in pursuit of turning around their fortunes while others took to free agency with constraint. Here’s a look at where we stand after a week of free agency:

Atlanta Falcons

FA-Recap-reedKey Losses:
G Justin Blalock
S Dwight Lowery
CB Robert McClain
OT Gabe Carimi
WR Harry Douglas
DI Corey Peters
CB Josh Wilson
HB Steven Jackson
HB Jacquizz Rodgers
ED Osi Umenyiora
ED Jonathan Massaquoi
LB Sean Weatherspoon

Key Re-Signings:
ED Kroy Biermann
HB Antone Smith
K Matt Bryant

Key Additions:
ED Brooks Reed
LB Justin Durant
ED O’Brien Schofield
CB Phillip Adams
ED Adrian Clayborn
G Mike Person
WR Leonard Hankerson
TE Jacob Tamme
TE Tony Moeaki

It’s all about change in Atlanta as they have a new head coach in Dan Quinn, a restructured front office and a laundry list of players who are either out of contract or have been shown the door. Some of those free agents, such as Jacquizz Rodgers, have found lukewarm interest elsewhere and may yet return, but by and large the Falcons appear keen to replenish the roster, rather than maintain the status quo.

Among the Falcons’ biggest failings in 2014 was their inability to hassle the opposing quarterback on a regular basis. It left a struggling secondary exposed, and hurt the team at key moments. So it’s little surprise that they have brought in three reinforcements, the question is really whether they are the right ones.

Brooks Reed has played extensively since entering the league in 2011, however 19 sacks (including five in the playoffs) is poor return from 58 starts and 64 total games. Reed has proven better against the run so it’s no surprise to see an inside linebacker role mooted for him. Another member of the 2011 draft class, Adrian Clayborn has proven much more fragile than Reed, playing in 36 games in that same span.

Clayborn showed good potential with a +13.6 pass rush grade as a rookie but has been unable to repeat that since. He has the size to play as a base end and that may be his role in 2015. O’Brien Schofield was a rotational pass rusher in Seattle and will fill the same role in Atlanta, with the added bonus of having two years of experience playing in Quinn’s scheme. Justin Durant is a solid run-stopping linebacker, which is something the Falcons’ lacked in 2014.

The rest of the new additions are role players who are being given the opportunity to show they can be more. Tight ends Tony Moeaki and Jacob Tamme have plenty of experience and should push Levine Toilolo into a more marginal role. Perhaps the most intriguing offensive addition is that of Mike Person; guards who have played just 69 snaps in four seasons in the league don’t get signed to three year deals without someone believing they have something more to offer.

Carolina Panthers

FA-Recap-oherKey Losses:
HB DeAngelo Williams
ED Greg Hardy
OT Byron Bell
S Thomas DeCoud
G Fernando Velasco

Key Re-Signings:
DL Dwan Edwards
TE Ed Dickson
DL Colin Cole

Key Additions:
OT Michael Oher
S Kurt Coleman
WR Ted Ginn Jr.

The Panthers haven’t been among the big spenders in free agency, they lack the cap room to be careless. Instead, they have focused on re-signing some of their own and shopping for potential bargains to fill their holes.

The offensive line struggled to offer QB Cam Newton adequate protection in 2014, finishing as the 27th ranked pass protecting unit in the league in our Offensive Line Rankings. Left tackle Byron Bell (-33.4) proved the weakest link and won’t be back, in his stead the Panthers have turned to Michael Oher. Oher has a cumulative -31.3 grade in pass protection across his six seasons in the NFL, so he’s hardly the natural choice to fix the Panthers’ pass protection issues, but he should at least be an upgrade over Bell. In truth, with the dearth of left tackle options on the open market the Panthers were between a rock and a hard place and it wouldn’t be a shock if Oher once again finds his place under threat from a rookie tackle.

Ted Ginn Jr. spent 2013 in Charlotte and should resume his role as a situation deep threat (he caught three touchdowns on Deep Passes that season). The departure of DeAngelo Williams signals the end of the Panthers’ strange pairing of high-paid running backs, though the financial implications will linger for a while yet.

Greg Hardy is the other high profile departure, off the field concerns made him expendable but his talent will continue to be missed. Kurt Coleman had a career-high +3.5 coverage grade as a rotational free safety for the Chiefs in 2014. He should reprise that role in Carolina, splitting time with Tre Boston.

New Orleans Saints

FA-Recap-spillerKey Losses:
TE Jimmy Graham
LB Curtis Lofton
G Ben Grubbs
WR Kenny Stills
C Jonathan Goodwin
CB Corey White
CB Patrick Robinson
DI Tyrunn Walker

Key Re-Signings:
HB Mark Ingram
LB Parys Haralson
LB Ramon Humber
K Shayne Graham

Key Additions:
C Max Unger
HB C.J. Spiller
LB Dannell Ellerbe
CB Brandon Browner

The New Orleans Saints appear to have moved far beyond roster restructuring, and find themselves firmly in fire sale territory instead. Star tight end Jimmy Graham was first out the door, moving to Seattle in a stunning trade, with the Saints obtaining center Max Unger and a first-round pick in exchange. Curtis Lofton and Corey White were soon cut and Ben Grubbs and Kenny Stills traded; Grubbs for a fifth-round pick; Stills for a third and Dannell Ellerbe. The strategy was clear, reduce the wage bill and, ideally, remove some overpaid or underperforming players in the process.

They haven’t just accumulated draft picks either, in Unger they have landed themselves a clear upgrade at center. He finished 2014 as our fourth-ranked center with a +12.4 overall grade, despite playing just 385 snaps during the regular season. While back in 2012 he was our joint second-ranked center with a +26.2 overall grade. Ellerbe played just one game in 2014 before going on Injured Reserve, but his -13.5 grade in 2013 gives Saints fans little reason for optimism, whereas the signing of running back C.J. Spiller does.

In 2012, Spiller led all running backs with a 94.6 Elusive Rating and finished fourth with a 39.9 Breakaway Percentage. His role has been reduced in the two years since, but he remains an exciting runner and a capable receiver; he should be a dynamic foil for lead back Mark Ingram.

The Saints have lost some experienced performers, but Graham was the only true difference maker among them. Their moves have left them with five picks in the first three rounds of the 2015 draft. If used wisely they could enter the season with greater overall team talent with some of it tied down on very affordable rookie contracts.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

FA-Recap-meltonKey Losses:
ED Michael Johnson
QB Josh McCown
OT Anthony Collins
LB Mason Foster
ED Adrian Clayborn

Key Re-Signings:
S Major Wright
CB Leonard Johnson
TE Luke Stocker
ED Larry English

Key Additions:
LB Bruce Carter
DI Henry Melton
CB Sterling Moore
S Chris Conte

The Buccaneers have made four signings, all on the defensive side, bringing in three former Cowboys and two former Bears (Henry Melton counts for both). Melton is an interesting signing, given the Buccaneers already had the outstanding Gerald McCoy. A talented pass rushing 3-technique, Melton finished sixth among defensive tackles in 2014 with a +15.8 pass rushing grade and tenth among starters with an 8.2 Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) score. McCoy led all tackles with a +36.2 pass rushing grade and finished fifth with a 9.4 PRP score. Facing that pairing on pass rushing downs will strike fear into many opposing quarterbacks.

Bruce Carter is ostensibly replacing Mason Foster, the pair had matching -8.2 grades in 2014, however Carter has spent the majority of his career as an outside linebacker, while Foster plays inside. The Buccaneers were well set at outside linebacker in 2014, with Lavonte David on the weak side and Danny Lansanah on the strong side; the expectation is that Lansanah will slide inside, leaving the SAM role free for Carter.

Free safety Chris Conte is reunited with Major Wright, whom he partnered for three years in Chicago under Lovie Smith. Familiarity is a good thing in a secondary, but their partnership was hardly an unqualified success in Chicago. The Buccaneers most recent addition has been that of ex-Cowboy Sterling Moore. Undrafted in 2011, Moore helped the Patriots to the Super Bowl that season, but had to wait until 2014 for an extended run as a starting corner. Moore finished the year with a +4.9 grade in coverage, he held his own in the slot but looked his best on the outside. Moore conceded just one touchdown all season – unfortunately that came on the road against Green Bay in the playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ biggest moves this offseason have involved dealing with some of last year’s mistakes, cutting Michael Johnson, Anthony Collins and Josh McCown. Expensive mistakes at that, with Johnson and Collins set to count for around $10 million against the cap in 2015. For various reasons it didn’t work out for that trio in Tampa, but their departures, combined with the team’s failure to sign adequate free agent replacements, leave the Buccaneers with holes at three key spots; they need to draft very well.


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| Analyst

Kevin has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, with a particular focus on college football.

  • baulpundy

    What about Brandon Browner. i know Pff is not high on him because of many flags he gets but he is still a upgrade at rcb for the saints.

    • Wyzel

      He’s better than what they have or had, though he did grade in the red a little too much. Surprising he’s not on the list for the sheer fact he signed, I have a feeling it was an oops.

  • Buc Fan97

    Bucs will go 11-5 Book IT

  • brutal

    Honestly, not a single team in this division is better off

    • RiseupFalcons

      STFU BITCH the falcons are better than your bum ass team next season

  • Nick Cortez

    This write-up goes from saying the Saints were in pure fire sale to their roster has a good chance of being better than it was after this draft due to the number and value of picks they have. Come on man!