NFC South Free Agent Grades and Draft Needs
Free Agency: Anyone who enjoys mixed martial arts knows that if you don’t defend yourself the refs going to stop the fight, and right now the Falcons are balled up on the floor taking punches and offering no sort of resistance. Domonique Foxworth is gone. My lovechild Michael Boley is gone. Veteran leader Keith Brooking is gone. What do the Falcons have to show in return? Mike Peterson? Who was benched last year in Jacksonville and whose sole contribution to Atlanta will be off field headaches. They couldn’t even give Tyson Clabo and Harvey Dahl – one of the better RT-RG combos in the league – long term contracts hot off gifting Michael Turner a 1700 yard season, instead hanging them out to tender. Consider franchising your punter throwing in the towel.
Draft Needs: Atlanta are in an awkward position. The players that fill their main needs (corner, safety and defensive tackle or end) will likely be gone or a reach at 24, so they may choose to address a secondary need like tight end. Brandon Pettigrew is the best blend of receiver AND blocker (remember when TEs blocked in college?) in the last few years, and he’s a great red zone target for Matt Ryan’s second year. The defensive tackle class is top heavy and falls away quickly, but they’ll seriously consider Darius Butler at corner should he tumble down the board.
Free Agency: How do I grade you if you don’t take part? I have signed as many free agents as Carolina have this offseason, and all they’ve accomplished is to spin their wheels in one of the fastest moving divisions in football. Franchising Jordan Gross was a no brainer, but the Panther staff will need to work overtime to keep the franchised Julius Peppers at the club with New England and Dallas sniffing about for the elite pass rusher.
Grade: F – If they lose Peppers I’m taking suggestions for what’s lower than an F.
Draft Needs: They need defensive lineman; tackles, ends whatever is available. But without a first round selection they’ll have a long wait until 59 overall, and may have to dip into the murky waters of mediocrity behind BJ Raji and Peria Jerry in the defensive tackle class.
New Orleans Saints
Free Agency: I’ve heard Super Bowl sleeper talk surrounding New Orleans and you can see why after their tidy offseason. They filled their need at safety with short term veteran solution Darren Sharper; they filled their need at corner with Jabari Greer; they tempted Jonathan Vilma to rejoin them from free agency; and found a comparable Mike Karney replacement in Heath Evans at fullback. Job done.
Draft Needs: They wouldn’t mind a linebacker so Rey Maualuga is an option, but Malcolm Jenkins – formerly considered top 7 quality – could be a more realistic consideration; they struck gold with Tracy Porter in last year’s draft, so why not go back to the well and pick up Jenkins? He can sit and learn behind Sharper before slotting in at free safety next year or when ready in 2009. If those needs aren’t do or die for this franchise then how about a luxury? Chris Wells would make a nice foil to the erratic Reggie Bush.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Free Agency: A lot of noise but not a lot of substance to show. They were an hour away from getting Jay Cutler and almost had Albert Haynesworth, but neither move materialised. Instead they made Kellen Winslow the highest paid tight end in the league, and signed Derrick Ward to time share with whoever isn’t injured between Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams. Those are nice moves… but they’re not Cutler or Haynesworth. Maybe a missed opportunity to assert some dominance on a wild division. There are still questions at QB, and given the choice between Byron Leftwich and Josh McCown I’m choosing to sell my season ticket. They also cut some fan favourite veterans in Joey Galloway, Warrick Dunn, Derrick Brooks and Cato Juno. Opening cap room for Jay Cutler maybe?
Grade: B – What they got was worth a B, but Tampa fans may be rueing the ‘what could of beens’.
Draft Needs: I don’t really see any other option but Josh Freeman here at 19. If Denver and San Francisco squabble it out for Mark Sanchez then they take Freeman no problem since the Jets have cooled their QB interests, but if Denver goes defence with their first pick then Tampa may have an ugly fight on their hands to get ahead of them. Receiver is the likely route in the second round, or they may wait for a late round speed specialist like Jonny Knox who could stretch the field.