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NFC South Free Agency: How Have The Saints, Panthers And Bucs Fared?

What a wild week this has been! This year's super-accelerated free agency has certainly lived up to the hype, with literally hundreds of signings taking place over the past few days. With most of the action behind us, the settled dust reveals an NFC South that could be even more competitive than last season.

As I'm sure all of you know, the Falcons focused their efforts towards keeping their own and addressing their single greatest need by signing Ray Edwards. The team's MO this offseason was very typical for Thomas Dimitroff: make a "one big splash" signing while keeping your core players around, all without drawing too much attention (unlike the Eagles, who clearly stuck to the Dan Snyder philosophy of "more players equals better").

All in all, I am very pleased with the way things turned out. Now onto the rest of the NFC South:

For starters, the Panthers came out guns blazing this week. Normally a fairly conservative team with super-villain Jerry Richardson at the helm, Carolina went out and signed or traded for every last tight end in the NFL. Literally, every single one:

  • Re-Signed DE Charles Johnson
  • Re-Signed RB DeAngelo Williams
  • Re-Signed LB Thomas Davis
  • Re-Signed LB James Anderson
  • Traded for TE Greg Olsen
  • Signed TE Jeremy Shockey
  • Signed TE Ben Hartsock
  • Signed K Olindo Mare

After getting into a bidding war with the Falcons over Charles Johnson, the Panthers overpaid really overpaid were able to sign the UGA alum to a six-year, $72M contract. They also managed to pry Greg Olsen away from the Bears for only a a third-round pick. Given the team's apparent success at keeping their star players around, the Panthers all of a sudden (dare I say it) look like a pretty solid team in an already stacked NFC South.
Grade: TE (a very rare grade, I only give it to teams that can sign three or more in one offseason)

The Saints' plan of attack turned out to be very similar to the Atlanta's, with the team electing to focus on re-signing their current players and make one or two big signings:

  • Re-Signed S Roman Harper
  • Re-Signed OT Jermon Bushrod
  • Re-Signed WR Lance Moore
  • Traded RB Reggie Bush
  • Signed RB Darren Sproles
  • Signed DT Shaun Rogers

After trading away whiny Reggie Bush, a move long expected to happen, New Orleans picked up their speedy complement to Mark Ingram in the form of Sproles. In addition, they were able to sign almost all of their players to extensions, with the one exception being FS Usama Young. The Saints also picked up Rogers, a little over the hill in my opinion, to bolster their front four.
Grade: 169 (that's the weight difference between Sproles and Rogers)

Finally, we have Tampa Bay. After the Bucs missed out on Nnamdi and Jonathan Joseph, they chose to go the quiet route and focused on re-signing their own players:

  • Re-Signed G Davin Joseph
  • Re-Signed OT Jeremy Trueblood
  • Re-Signed LB Quincy Black
  • Signed P Michael Koenen

That's right: the Bucs, who had even more cap room than the Panthers, felt that their money would best be wasted spent on ex-Falcon punter Michael Koenen in the form of a six year, $19M contract. They also re-signed Joseph to a very expensive seven-year, $52.5M contract, perhaps too much for a pretty average offensive guard. Still, even with no big acquisition the Bucs remain a very talented, young and dangerous team.
Grade: ST ("Special teams wins championships," wait that's not it...)

For more on the Falcons, check out The Falcoholic. For more on the Panthers, check out Cat Scratch Reader. For more on the Saints, check out Canal Street Chronicles. For more on the Buccaneers, check out Bucs Nation.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.