With the NFL in the midst of the first lockout since 1987, many teams are left with question marks about their immediate and long-term future. A lockout means no free agency which in turn means using a completely new strategy for the 2011 NFL Draft. Not to mention the carnage left behind if the entire season is wiped out.
So how will the Falcons - and by extension the rest of the NFC South - be affected by the first work stoppage in 25 years? Using the number of free agents a team currently has, their potential needs in the upcoming draft and the number of players over 30 years old, we can use some mathematical goodness to determine which teams could be severely handicapped by this lockout and which ones may not even notice.
#1 - (least affected) Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons are in the best position of any NFC South team if the lockout is not resolved early on. They have the fewest number of free agents (13) and despite their high number of 30-plus players (12), they are coming off a 13-4 season with very few holes to fill. A new labor deal may not get done until October and this team could take the field as one of the best teams in the league, as-is.
#2 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers - After an impressive 10-6 season, the Bucs are set to be the second-best in this division if the lockout continues into the summer months. They have the second-fewest free agents (17) and have only four players over 30 years old. This is a young team with a few holes to fill but nothing that should keep them from competing again in 2011. The lockout is not necessarily a bad thing for this team.
#3 - Carolina Panthers - The Panthers have the most needs to fill and with quarterback being one of them, this lockout could really hurt this franchise. They have 21 free agents and seven players over 30 years old (both third in the NFC South). Since a quarterback takes time to learn the playbook and develop timing with the receivers, a prolonged lockout could essentially mean another disastrous season.
#4 - (most affected) - New Orleans Saints - Though this team is as complete as the Falcons, they may not be if/when the lockout is resolved. The Saints have 29 free agents and 14 players over 30 years old (both NFC South highs). Depending on how soon the labor impasse is resolved, the Saints could be trying to implement a draft strategy without knowing where almost 55 percent of their team will end up.
Obviously, if the lockout is resolved the free agent signings could drastically change this landscape. For now though, the Falcons are in the best position to become the first team to repeat as NFC South champions for the first time ever.