Posted by: mdegeorge | August 11, 2011

NFL Free Agency Diagnosis: NFC South

The 2011 NFL season has come courtesy of an unprecedented time in the league’s history. Essentially two offseasons worth of transactions have been jammed into around two weeks to completely reshape the entire league in the blink of an offseason eye. Most of what you thought you knew about a team can be thrown out, with some teams having close to 40 percent of their rosters overhauled instantly.

Let’s try and bring some order to this mess, since the pressure is going to ratchet up starting Thursday when the first round of preseason games kicks off and the hot stove might cool a bit. Below are the lists of departures and arrivals for each of the 32 NFL teams and just what they mean for teams.

Continuing with the NFC South…

Reggie Bush might be leaving New Orleans, but the reloading Saints won't be worse for wear. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Atlanta Falcons

Signed: G Justin Blalock, K Matt Bryant, OT Tyson Clabo, DE Ray Edwards, CB Brent Grimes, LS Ryan Neill, LB Stephen Nicholas , LB Mike Peterson, RB Jason Snelling, WR Eric Weems

Lost: DE Jamaal Anderson, G Harvey Dahl, WR Michael Jenkins, P Michael Koenen, RB Jerious Norwood

Diagnosis: The Falcons are coming off an excellent 2010 season knowing the improvements they need to make are minor. The glaring loss is Jenkins, but their ability to move up and swoop Julio Jones in the draft replaces him with a younger player with more upside. They also lose Norwood but retain Snelling as an insurance policy behind Michael Turner and are hoping that fifth-rounder Jacquizz Rodgers turns into that type of shifty, third-down back. Edwards for Anderson is a pretty even swap, and they add linebacker depth with Peterson. The interesting aspect is special teams, where they are unable to retain Koenen, though who could blame them with the type of money Tampa shelled out for him. The Falcons are hoping rookie Matt Bosher will the job for them. But with one of the top 10 offenses in the league, he shouldn’t have to do too much.

Carolina Panthers

Signed: LB James Anderson, QB Derek Anderson, S Sean Considine, DT Ron Edwards, LB Omar Gaither, LS J.J. Jansen, DE Charles Johnson, K Olindo Mare, WR Legedu Naanee, LB Jordan Senn, RB DeAngelo Williams. TE Greg Olsen, TE Jeremy Shockey

Lost: TE Jeff King, DT Derek Landri, CB Richard Marshall, QB Matt Moore, C Chris Morris, TE Dante Rosario

Diagnosis: The Panthers were willing to spend big money in the offseason. Of course, most of it was for big contracts retaining their own players Williams and Johnson, a move that might seem a bit perplexing on a 2-14 team. They let Moore go and take on Anderson as a veteran third-quarterback along with successive lottery picks Cam Newton and Jimmy Clausen. Clausen is presumably the starter; he’ll have plenty of extra weapons with a deep threat in Naanee and a formidable tight end duo in Olsen and Shockey. What he won’t have, though, are any upgrades to an offensive line that allowed 50 sacks last season, the second most in the league. The defensive unit is bolstered by some more linebacking depth and Considine as a playmaker at safety. They may not be a playoff team this year, but they can’t be as terrible as a season ago.

New Orleans Saints

Signed: OT Alex Barron, OT Jermon Bushrod, DE Jeff Charleston, LB Danny Clark, LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar, DT Aubrayo Franklin, FB Korey Hall, S Roman Harper, LB Will Herring, TE Troy Humphrey, C Olin Kreutz, DE Turk McBride, CB Trumaine McBride, WR Lance Moore, G Carl Nicks, S Paul Oliver, S Pierson Prioleau, S Chris Reis, WR Courtney Roby, LB Scott Shanle, RB Darren Sproles, OT Zach Strief, TE David Thomas, CB Leigh Torrence, CB Fabian Washington

Lost: DT Remi Ayodele, RB Reggie Bush, C Jonathan Goodwin, DL Anthony Hargrove, DT Jimmy Wilkerson, S Usama Young, TE Jeremy Shockey, LB Martez Wilson

Diagnosis: Even a good team like the Saints isn’t afraid to make changes (and this includes four picks in the top three rounds of the draft). Where to begin? Bush is more than ably replaced by Sproles and first-round pick Mark Ingram. The offensive line is bolstered by bringing back Bushrod, subbing in the veteran Kreutz, who the Saints obviously think has a little left, for Gooodwin, and brining in Barron for cheap depth at tackle. The big ticket Shockey was apparently made expendable by what the Saints saw in rookie Jimmy Graham, as well as the dependable Thomas, while Moore returns on the outside. An average rushing defense is improved by Franklin replacing Ayodele. They also add valuable depth and special teams pieces at linebacker and defensive back. Just another season of reloading.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Signed: K Connor Barth, LB Quincy Black, DE Tim Crowder, LB Adam Hayward, G Davin Joseph, P Michael Koenen, OT James Lee, S Corey Lynch, CB Elbert Mack, DT Frank Okam, WR Michael Spurlock , OT Jeremy Trueblood

Lost: TE John Gilmore, LB Barrett Ruud, WR Maurice Stovall, RB Cadillac Williams

Diagnosis: It’s not often that a team that misses the playoffs has the luxury of making the kicking game the location of its biggest offseason move. But that’s what the Bucs did in their big-money capture of Koenen. The upshot? The Bucs were 31st in the NFL in punting with an average of 40.2 yards; in Atlanta, Koenen averaged 40.7 yards per kick. This way be a game of inches, but those are six expensive inches that might not even translate when you consider Koenen’s numbers involved at least 10 games in domes. The Bucs had the 17th-best passing offense in the league last year, something that should be bettered simply by quarterback Josh Freeman continuing his development, and the sixth-best rushing game, which could take a bit of a hit if no one steps up to replace Williams as the backup. Defensively, they lose leading tackler Ruud but strengthened through the draft with a pair of young defensive ends in Da’Quan Bowers and Adrian Clayborn. The Bucs didn’t overspend, but surely fans will see their inactivity on the free agency market as a missed opportunity to strengthen themselves in one of football’s most difficult division.

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