It's been a rough offseason for the NFC South. The Saints continued their yearly tradition of trading away a top offensive player and signing a mediocre LB. Carolina gave Matt Kalil a giant contract, and now Newton is having rotator cuff surgery. The Bucs made good moves on paper that will make them an offseason darling, only for them to inevitably underachieve when the season starts.
So, in summary, the Falcons are #1, all others are #2 or lower.
The one team that gave the Falcons their only division loss this past season (Tampa Bay) is the one team that has improved the most out of the other three NFC South squads. While I’m not in love with certain spots on their team, signing WR DeSean Jackson and DT Chris Baker were key signings for a 9-7 team and flirting with a playoff spot last season. Carolina’s biggest hole entering the offseason (OL) still is a liability even with LT Matt Kalil as a free agent pickup. New Orleans traded away arguably their biggest offseason weapon outside of QB Drew Brees (WR Brandin Cooks) but what will make or break the Saints is once again, on defense. Getting CBs PJ Williams and Delvin Breaux healthy and bringing back DT Nick Fairley helps them. Although, something still seems off about the Saints in general.
Well this was pretty easy. The Saints clearly had the worst offseason in the division because, well, they're the Saints. Meanwhile, the Panthers getting Matt Kalil is a nice pick up that still somehow doesn't fix their issues. The Bucs, though, decided to make moves that actually improve the team and give them some experience and some meaningful depth in positions of need.
In short, everyone but the Falcons still smells like old cabbage, and Atlanta, once again, led the division in meaningful acquisitions and overall likability.
The Saints have been terrible at drafting, so of course they trade away one of their few successful picks for… a few draft picks. Adios Brandin Cooks. This reminds me of when they traded Jimmy Graham away for an average lineman and some draft picks they wasted. Next they will trade Drew Brees away for some magic beans. At least they had enough money to pay a big defensive tackle with motivation issues. That’s a great plan. The Panthers are starting a tradition of overpaying bad offensive linemen. Matt Kalil’s deal reminded me of when the Chicago Bears paid Bobby Massie a billion dollars just because he was there. Like every year, the Bucs seem to have had a good offseason. People will say they are a dark horse to win the NFC South, and like every year, those people will be wrong.
The Buccaneers have been aggressive this free agency period, and as happens every year, their moves have been widely lauded. The Panthers have paired some decent signings with a massive deal for Matt Kalil, and I’m not sure they’re really all that much better. The Saints have been one of the weirdest teams in the NFL, trading away Brandin Cooks, signing Manti Te’o to a multi-year deal, and just generally re-jiggering their roster without a clear path to relevance emerging.
At the most basic level, the Buccaneers are obviously improved, the Falcons are slightly improved (and were a Super Bowl team), and the Saints and Panthers might be better if the majority of their weird signings actually work out. The net result is that the NFC South should be a better division next year, but Atlanta is still the best team in it.
I am inclined to say that the Bucs made some good moves this offseason, that should, in theory, make them a better team on Sundays. As we all know, however, there isn’t a direct correlation to what looks good on paper and what plays out on the field. I think the Falcons’ approach this season has been a smart one. They are committed to the young core that they have developed, and they aren’t risking any long-term finances by breaking the bank in free agency. It seems they are dedicated to building through the draft (praise Jesus hands emoji). The Panthers don’t really seem to have much of a plan, but I’d rather not have to face Leonard Fournette twice every season. The Saints are the Cleveland Browns with Drew Brees at quarterback. Yeah, I said it.
DeSean Jackson is a great complement to Mike Evans, but it doesn’t matter because Tampa Bay’s quarterback is still Jameis Winston. The Saints are as bad as ever, trading away Brandin Cooks and possibly acquiring Malcolm Butler — putting them at 7-9 next season may be a bit generous. The Panthers are terrible and their quarterback, who can barely complete 50 percent of his passes, just had (late) shoulder surgery. Falcons on top, Falcons gonna win — again.