Today, we continue our offseason preview of every team in the NFL one division at a time with the NFC South, a division that sent two teams to the postseason last year. Let’s check out the offseason needs of the four teams in the NFC South.
Atlanta Falcons – The Falcons are coming off a disappointing season, but they lost a lot of close games and struggled mainly because of injuries, so with a positive offseason they can become a contender once again in 2014. Offensively, they have the quarterback and receivers that can win games when everyone’s healthy, but they need to make significant improvements to their offensive line. They don’t necessarily need to use their first round pick on a lineman, but they may need to bring in three or four new starters up front, and that needs to be their biggest priority this offseason. Defensively, the Falcons also need help at the line of scrimmage. The best-case scenario for Atlanta would be to get a young pass rusher early in the draft and then try to bring in a couple of interior linemen later in the draft or through free agency. If they address their needs along the line of scrimmage early in the draft, they could stand to get younger at running back and tight end later in the draft.
Carolina Panthers – The Panthers won the NFC South in 2013 on the back of a top-flight defense, and their top priority this offseason is to keep that defense in tact as best they can. Carolina needs to re-sign Greg Hardy, even if it means putting the franchise tag on him. The Panthers also have a few free agents in their secondary, and they’ll need to re-sign those players unless they have a specific plan on how to replace them. On offense, they’ll have to make a decision on whether or not to re-sign tight end Greg Olson. They should also look for a place in the draft where they can pick up a wide receiver, possibly two, as Steve Smith may not have much left in the tank. The Panthers could also look to reinforce their offensive line and perhaps look to upgrade their backup quarterback.
New Orleans Saints – The Saints have plenty of key players entering free agency this year, and they’ve already had to cut a few players to save cap space, so they should have a challenging offseason ahead of them. The biggest question is the status of Jimmy Graham and whether they’ll be able to sign him to a long-term deal or have to use the franchise tag on him. Elsewhere, the team has already cut Jabari Greer and Roman Harper, while Malcom Jenkins is entering free agency, which means there are a lot of empty spots in the New Orleans secondary alongside Kenny Vaccaro, and the Saints need to make filling those spots a priority if they’re going to remain one of the top passing defenses in the league. The Saints will also need to add help at linebacker, and could utilize an early-round draft pick at that position. Offensively, there are a couple of starters on the offensive line entering free agency that New Orleans may want to re-sign if they have the cap space, but the rest of the offense looks to be in good shape, assuming Graham is back with the team one way or another.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – With Lovie Smith being the new head coach and Leslie Frazier the new defensive coordinator, expect that side of the ball to be Tampa’s focus this offseason. The top priority for the Bucs should be to find an impact pass rusher; the talent in the secondary isn’t an issue, but that unit could be even better if Tampa get put a lot more pressure on the quarterback, so the Bucs could be looking for a defensive end early in the draft. Tampa Bay will also be looking for a middle linebacker in the first two rounds of the draft that can lead that unit into the future much like Luke Kuechly is doing for division rival Carolina. On offense, the Bucs will probably wait a year until they decide if they want to move forward with Mike Glennon as their quarterback, but they do need to make sure that their offensive line is in good shape heading into 2014, and if possible they may try to add a wide receiver or tight end to help put Glennon in position to have success in 2014.