Terry Fontenot has been relatively active throughout free agency, but the Falcons’ brass hasn’t made a single “splash” signing. Mike Davis could be considered the only impact-free agent acquisition, but the M.O. has been to prioritize depth at affordable price points that can provide starting-caliber play. Either through signing, re-signing, or trading, Fontenot has acquired Jonathan Bullard, Josh Andrews, Fabian Moreau, Barkevious Mingo, Erik Harris, Brandon Copeland, Lee Smith, Steven Means, Matt Gono, Chrisitan Blake, Jaeden Graham, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Tyler Hall, and Younghoe Koo thus far.
There are many moving pieces around an NFL team; it might be hard to even keep up with your favorite team, let alone other teams. Winning your division in the NFL will always be the first goal each year; it’s the quickest way to punch your ticket to the playoffs. The Falcons division rivals have been both active and inactive in free agency as the Buccanneers are attempting to get the band back together that won last year’s Super Bowl, while the Saints are trying to maintain a reasonable payroll without tearing down the entire operation. Here I’ll go over what each NFC South team has been up to this offseason.
The team’s highlight signing is AJ Bouye, who is the most recent signing and will be suspended for the first two games of the 2021 season as part of a six-game ban he received last year for violations of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. Bouye will likely be the starter opposite Donte Jackson. Denzel Perryman, who filled the team’s biggest need on defense, is better rushing the passer and defending the run than dropping into coverage from his off-ball position. Injuries have hampered his career thus far, but I would chalk that up to his fast and physical style of play. Haason Reddick was the team’s biggest splash signing as he tallied 12.5 sacks last year in Arizona, and I even advocated for the Falcons to sign him earlier in the offseason.
Frankie Luvu and Morgan Fox were less notable signings but will provide quality depth along the Carolina defensive front. Fox hasn’t missed a game in his three NFL seasons and has positional flexibility to line up inside and outside. Luvu isn’t going to rack up crazy stats but has 30 pressures in 40 games. Wide receiver David Moore is fast, 4.42 40-yard dash speed. He threatens to take the top of defenses as he did in Seattle, averaging over 17 yards per catch in his first two years with the Seahawks. Dan Arnold is a quality receiving option at tight end, providing trustworthy hands and YAC potential.
The Panthers addressed the offensive line with Pat Elflein and Cam Erving, but Falcons fans don’t have to worry. Neither is exceptional, and the most desirable attribute of each is their positional flexibility. If Erving starts at either tackle position, Carolina did something wrong this offseason. Rashaan Melvin is an NFL journeyman who will be playing for his tenth team but should provide veteran leadership for the young defensive backs in Carolina. Darius Clark is a special teams contributor who should provide more in that phase than on offense as a running back.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints have spent a majority of the offseason watching their high-valued free agents sign with other teams as New Orleans is unable to sign any departing players given their salary cap woes; it was always going to be a slow offseason, but Mickey Loomis hasn’t sat on his hands. He resigned a pair of safeties in PJ Williams and Marcus Williams, but it’s been relatively quiet.
Jameis Winston highlights this free-agent class, and rightfully so as the former Florida State Seminole will likely start over Taysom Hill. In my opinion, an offense surrounding Hill severely limits the passing concepts Sean Payton would install. Still, there is an open quarterback competition brewing in the Big Easy. Outside of Winston, Tanoh Kpassagnon is the headliner of the Saints’ quiet free agency.
He’s an imposing physical specimen standing 6-foot-7 and weighing 289 pounds but hasn’t yet maximized his physical gifts. His development will continue, and I would warn Falcons fans to watch out for him in New Orleans as he played out of position in Kansas City. Nick Vannett signed with the Broncos last offseason as a blocking tight end, which is curious as he’s never been effective in that area of his game. He has underwhelmed as both a receiver and a blocker, but a change of scenery should benefit him as Sean Payton will get the most out of him. Alex Armah will likely play a traditional fullback role but will provide the most value as a special teamer.
Tampa Bay Buccanneers
The defending Super Bowl Champions have attempted to keep the band together and have essentially done that, as Jason Licht has re-signed almost every impending free agent the team had. Shaq Barrett was rewarded with a lucrative four-year deal; Lavonte David was given a two-year extension; Chris Godwin received the franchise tag; Gronk signed an incentivized one-year contract; kicker Ryan Succop inked a three-year deal; Leonard Fournette and Ndamukong Suh each signed one-year deals. Antonio Brown is the only piece of the puzzle missing from that Super Bowl team.
Tampa Bay is in line for another playoff run, but the NFL is unpredictable, and nothing is ever what it seems. The Panthers have consistently remained mediocre on and off the field, though they seem to be improving under Matt Rhule — I do love the Reddick signing. The Saints are clearly clinging to what is now a closed Super Bowl window, which bodes well for Atlanta. I truly believe the Falcons are in a better position in the future than either Carolina or New Orleans at this point in the free agency period.