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NFL Free Agency 2016: Sizing up the NFC South's start to the offseason

The Falcons aren't the only team out here making free agent signings.

This morning, I gave the Falcons a B for starting their free agent splurge with center Alex Mack, defensive end Derrick Shelby, defensive end/tackle hybrid Adrian Clayborn, and backup quarterback Matt Schaub. Now it's time to look in at the rest of the NFC South and see how they've fared thus far.


They lost future Hall of Famer Logan Mankins and replaced him with J.R. Sweezy, who is at best an average NFL guard, for 5 years and $32.5 million. Sweezy was probably the best guard they were going to get on the open market and he'll be better in 2016 than most any rookie they could have added, but that's a contract I expect the Bucs to regret at some point down the line.

Otherwise, Tampa Bay kept its focus inward, signing Doug Martin to a 5 year, $37.5 million contract that will keep the up-and-down running back around for a while. If Martin's the player he was last year throughout the life of the contract, the Buccaneers win big, but it's worth noting that he's had two great seasons and two very mediocre ones thus far in his career, so that's not a guarantee. The team also gave starting safety Bradley McDougald a one year, $2.5 million tender.

Thus far, the Buccaneers have "upgraded" exactly one position, and have spent a lot of money to do so. They're a team with intriguing young pieces, a potential franchise quarterback, and Gerald McCoy, but I'm not sure they're any better today than they were on March 8th.

Grade: C-


The Panthers have primarily focused on keeping their own guys around, but they've done so at reasonable rates. Bruising fullback Mike Tolbert is back for 2 years and $4 million, Charles Johnson re-signed for an insanely affordable one year and $3 million, and the team gave a second round tender to starting tackle Mike Remmers and brought back QB Joe Webb and WR Stephen Hill.

Considering they just made it to the Super Bowl, the Panthers are wise to keep the band back together and try to build through the draft, especially when you factor in the return of Kelvin Benjamin at wide receiver. They'll need to upgrade their offensive line and add pieces to the secondary, but you can't knock Carolina for keeping quiet right now.

Grade: A-


New Orleans has a plan, as always, but it's hard to suss out why they think it's such a great plan this time around. After trading Jimmy Graham away for center Max Unger, they just signed Coby Fleener to a five year, $36 million contract. I don't doubt that Fleener will fare better in the Saints' tight end friendly offense than he did in Indianapolis, but that's a lot of money for a catch-first tight end who hasn't been anywhere near an elite option in his career.

Otherwise, they've primarily focused on tendering and re-signing their own players, which is sound for solid contributors like Michael Hoomanawanui and questionable when the player is Tim Hightower, a 30 year old back who was out of the NFL until the Saints scooped him up, and who the team is reportedly interested in. The Saints did acquire some nice pieces during the draft last year, and if they can do so again this year and Fleener proves a coup, they'll be set. Their lack of cap space means they can't really afford any misses, however, and Fleener feels risky.

Grade: B-

How would you grade the NFC South?