• Devan Flint

NFC South Free Agency Grades

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Panthers - C

Notable Additions

- S Tre Boston, 3-years, $18 million, $9.5 million guaranteed

- QB Teddy Bridgewater, 3-years, $63 million, $33 million guaranteed

- OT Russel Okung, via trade

- OG John Miller, 1-year, $4 million

- EDGE Stephen Weatherly, 2-years, $12.5 million

Notable Losses

- OG Trai Turner, traded

- CB James Bradberry, signed by the Giants

- DT Gerald McCoy, signed by the Cowboys

- EDGE Mario Addison, signed by the Bills

- TE Greg Olsen, released

- S Eric Reid, released

- QB Cam Newton, released

The Carolina Panthers appointed Matt Rhule as head coach this offseason to a seven yard contract. Given Rhules reputation of creating great college programs it’s no surprise Carolinas moves portray those of a new coach, leadership and program.

Releasing Cam Newton and signing Teddy Bridgewater to a 3-year $63 million deal was the Panthers biggest move. Newtons health was a problem all through the 2019 season causing him to receive the injury prone stamp. However, the 2015 MVP has only missed 6 games his 8 years prior to 2019. It’s likely Rhule and new owner David Tepper simply wanted their own guy at quarterback and used Newtons 2019 injures as an excuse to move on. Despite this I think it’s unlikely they found their guy in Bridgewater, Carolina need far more than a game manager to win games with their depleted roster. Yet, Bridgewater does provide them with a premium over their back-up quarterbacks and at $21 million annually I think it’s a good deal for a bridge quarterback whilst you wait to draft or sign your guy.

The Okung for Turner trade is in my opinion good for both sides. Whilst Okung has a big cap hit in 2020 at $13 million his contract also expires at the end of the season meaning they can use 2020 to decide whether they re-sign or let him go. Okung will also likely act as a mentor for 2019 37th overall pick Greg Little which could prove invaluable given the importance of the tackle position. Whilst the loss of 5-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner will leave a hole at Carolinas guard spots its very likely Turner would have demanded a huge contract in 2021 as well as accounting for a $9 million and $11.5 million cap hit in 2020 and 21 respectively. Hence, its likely this was mainly a cap decision for a team looking to rebuild.

The Panthers lost three big pieces of their defense to free agency. James Bradberry signed a huge deal in New York making him the 3rd highest paid corner despite having a very average year in 2019 excluding his 3 interceptions. While his loss leaves a big gap across from Donte Jackson, paying him that much money in my opinion would have been a mistake. Although McCoy and Addison are good players in their own right, they are both 32 and past their primes, and given the introduction of a new program and leadership allowing McCoy and Addison to leave is understandable.

Saints - A

Notable Additions

- QB Drew Brees, 2-years, $50 million, $27 million guaranteed

- QB Taysom Hill, 2-years, $21 million

- S Malcolm Jenkins, 4-years, $32 million, $16.25 million guaranteed

- DT David Onyemata, 3-years, $27 million

- OG Andrus Peat, 5-years, $57.5 million, $33.8 million guaranteed

- WR Emmanuel Sanders, 2-years, $16 million

- QB Jameis Winston, 1 year, $1.1 million

Notable Losses

- S Vonn Bell, signed by Bengals

- CB Eli Apple

New Orleans signed three quarterbacks this offseason, Drew Brees, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston. 4-time Pro Bowler and future Hall of Famer Drew Brees signed a team friendly deal, his $25 million annually places him 14th in quarterback annual salary. While this may seem alarming for a future Hall of Famer and potential top 5 quarterback in 2020, Brees only played 11 games last year and like in other years his arm velocity fell off towards the end of the season and play-offs, starting rumours the Saints may load manage the 41 year old. Despite his flaws he still threw 27 touchdowns to 4 interceptions in 11 games in 2019 and his team friendly deal simply shows his desire to get that second ring. The Saints also re-signed gadget player Taysom Hill to a 2 year $21 million deal, while Hill can certainly do a plethora of things for a team on offense and special teams I think $10.5 million annually is overpaying, and I believe we would see Jameis Winston before we see Taysom Hill start at centre in New Orleans. In my opinion the signing of Jameis Winston for 1-year $1.1 million was one of the best overall moves in free agency. Although his 30 interceptions in 2019 are undeniably bad he also threw for 5109 passing yards and 33 touchdowns proving he is a good quarterback with elite arm talent but bad decision making. Under the tutoring and mentorship of Payton and Brees I believe Winston could flourish into either the Saints, or another teams starting quarterback

The Saints also re-united with veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins. Jenkins is great leader with elite mentality, in 2019 he totalled 81 tackles and 2.5 sacks, proving he remains a good defender against the run as well as the pass, be It blitzing or covering on the back end of the defense. Although a 4-year deal for a 32-year old is questionable, only the first two years are fully guaranteed and if he fails to produce at the level, they expect on the field they can cut ties in 2022 with a bearable $4.5 million dead cap hit.

Although I am not a fan of the Saints re-signing Andrus Peat the decision is understandable. There was not a plethora of talent at offensive guard in free agency and had Peat hit the market its likely he would’ve been the most talented guard available and would’ve been paid like it. Hence, with the Saints being locked in on winning now, keeping their offensive line intact is understandable. However, 5 years $57.5 million is 6th annually amongst offensive guards, which is a lot of money given Peat struggled in 2019 and 18 in both the pass and the run. The only real positive Peat showed between 2018-19 was his versatility, being able to play both tackle and guard positions which may have led to the Saints paying him modestly.

Possibly the best signing of New Orleans free agency was 2 -time Pro Bowl wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Although 2020 will be Sanders 12th year in the NFL he remains productive. Over the past 6 years Sanders has racked up 5,863 receiving yards and 31 touchdowns. Whilst Sanders is a good number one receiver in the NFL, he is an incredible number two. Making Sanders and Michael Thomas a top 3 wide receiver duo in the league. Further, at 2-years $16 million he is an absolute steal, putting him behind the likes of Adam Humphries, Quincy Enunwa and Randall Cobb in terms of annual salary.

Falcons – B-

Notable Additions

- EDGE Dante Fowler Jr, 3-years, $48 million, $29 million guaranteed

- TE Hayden Hurst, via trade

- DT Tyeler Davison, 3-years, $12 million, $4.5 million guaranteed

- RB Todd Gurley, 1-year, $5.5 million fully guaranteed

Notable Losses

- CB Desmond Trufant, released

- RB Devonta Freeman, released

- EDGE Vic Beasley Jr, signed by the Titans

- LB De’Vondre Campbell, signed by the Cardinals

- TE Austin Hooper, signed by the Browns

The Falcons big free agent signing was Dante Fowler Jr. Despite his breakout year in 2019 which he totalled 11.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits I don’t like the deal at all. At 3-years $48 million Fowler ranks 17th in annual earning for pass-rushers putting him ahead of elite talent like Danielle Hunter. While Fowlers stats portray a great year in 2019 he saw most of his pressures and sacks unblocked or clean ups meaning he will likely regress to his previous career mean in 2020 with around 5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss which is why in my opinion this was one of the worst deals in the whole of the 2019 free agency.

Although Atlanta cutting number one cornerback Desmond Trufant helped their cap situation it left them with a severe lack of depth on the outside. In 2020 they will line up rookie AJ Terrel, 3rd year Isaiah Oliver and 2nd year Kendall Sheffield making their already weak passing defense in 2019 who allowed 244.9 passing yards per game even weaker.

Trading for Hayden Hurst was a great move in my opinion. Given they lost Austin Hooper to free agency it left a hole at tight end. While a second-round pick is quite a steep price it’s understandable for someone with Hurst’s potential talent. Hurst also has very little wear and tear on his body with only 4 games started in his first two seasons in Baltimore with 43 catches for 512 yards and 3 touchdowns, and although you could argue he is relatively unproven he has shown the ability to win in single coverage unlike Austin Hooper who the Falcons allowed to leave in free agency and went on to get $10.5 million annually, whereas Hurst still has 2 years remaining on his rookie deal along with a fifth-year option making the deal even better.

Once upon a time not so long-ago Todd Gurley was widely accepted as the best running back in the NFL making back to back Pro Bowls and first team All-Pro in 2017 and 18 along with offensive player of the year in 2017. However, in 2018 Gurley went down with a knee injury which he never truly recovered from, reportedly he has an arthritic knee which may mean it never truly heals. Yet, even in a down year Gurley mustered 857 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, so for the Falcons to sign him to a 1-year $5.5 million deal is in my view a great deal given the potential upside showed in 2017-18. Additionally, cutting Devonta Freeman with a $6 million dead cap hit was a good cap move by the Falcons, Freeman would’ve been in the 3rd year of his 5-year $41 million deal and hadn’t lived up to expectations. Freeman missed 14 games in 2018 and averaged only 46.9 yards per game in 2019 leading to him being released.

Buccaneers - A

Notable Additions

- QB Tom Brady, 2-years, $50 million fully guaranteed

- EDGE Shaquil Barrett, franchise tag

- EDGE Jason Pierre-Paul, 2-years, $27 million, $20 million guaranteed

- DT Ndamukong Suh, 1-year $8 million fully guaranteed

- TE Rob Gronkowski, via trade

Notable Losses

- QB Jameis Winston, signed by the Saints

- WR Breshad Perriman, signed by the Jets

- EDGE Carl Nassib, signed by the Raiders

Tampa won the Brady sweepstakes, making them the potential winners of free agency. Although Brady is 42 and had a down year in 2019, he still threw 24 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Brady’s presence makes Tampa an immediate Super Bowl contender the way no other available quarterback could’ve. Also, at 2 years $50 million fully guaranteed the deal is a team friendly one, allowing the Buccaneers to surround Brady with even more talent than they already have. Despite being the greatest quarterback of all-time and a 6-time super bowl champion I still believe this deal is a potential boom or bust. Father time will eventually catch up on Brady meaning his time in Tampa could end with two eight and eight seasons or he could potentially re-find his 2018 form and lead the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl.

Trading for tight end Rob Gronkowski was a solid move. Given the shortened offseason giving Brady a known weapon is smart by Tampa’s front office. Gronkowski will join a stacked tight end group alongside O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate. Gronkowski is coming out of retirement and has slimmed down and in his 9-year career he took a lot of hits, and I question whether he will be able to take the hits in 2020 that he took throughout his Hall of Fame career. Also, the most recent time we saw Gronkowski was in 2018 when he only caught 47 balls for 682 yards and 3 touchdowns. Whilst it’s unlikely the Gronkowski we will see will be the Gronkowski of old he will remain an elite 3rd down and red zone target for Brady.

Retaining edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul were great moves for numerous reasons. Franchise Tagging Shaquil Barret was a good move as it allows Tampa to evaluate him for another year before likely making him the highest paid edge rusher in the NFL. Barrett is coming off the first year in his career in 2019 where he started all 16 games, due to being a rotational edge rusher in Denver. Barrett had a huge season leading the league in sacks with 19.5 as well as 19 tackles for loss and 37 quarterback hits. Whilst Barrett may not be feared the way Von Miller and Khalil Mack are, if he has another year like 2019, he could arguably be the best edge rusher in the NFL and get paid like it. Lining up opposite Barrett is 10-year veteran Jason Pierre-Paul who the Buccaneers re-signed for $27 million over 2 years with $20 million guaranteed. This deal locks in JPP opposite Barrett for the duration of the Brady Super Bowl window. Although Pierre-Paul has a troubled injury past and is 31 I still really like the deal. Throughout his career when healthy he has been a monster off the edge and during his time in Tampa, he sacked the quarterback 12.5 times in 2018 and 8.5 times in 2019 despite playing only 10 games. So, if JPP stays healthy I think the Buccaneers will have one of the most lethal pass rushes in the NFL making the deal and risk associated with it well worth it.

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