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Free agency needs by the numbers

3/12/2013

To celebrate the start of free agency, the good people at ESPN Stats & Information sent out some numbers that might show what each NFC South team needs to work on this offseason.

Let’s take a team-by-team look:

ATLANTA FALCONS

  • If Tony Gonzalez decides to retire, the Falcons will have a huge void. Including the postseason, Gonzalez was responsible for 107 of Atlanta’s 116 tight-end receptions last season.

  • The Falcons are expecting to make a move at running back after releasing Michael Turner. It became obvious last season that the Falcons needed to improve their running game. They averaged 3.8 yards per rush between the tackles, which tied for the fifth-lowest rate in the league. The Falcons also ranked last in the league with just 18 rushing first downs when facing less than 4 yards to go for a first down.

  • The Falcons also have a void at defensive end after releasing John Abraham. Over the last three seasons, Abraham had 28.5 sacks when the Falcons sent four or fewer pass-rushers. In that same span, no other Atlanta defensive end had more than eight sacks.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

  • It’s no secret the Panthers need help at defensive tackle. Last season, they had only nine tackles for loss from their defensive line. Only Dallas (seven) had fewer.

  • Carolina also needs help in the secondary after allowing opponents to complete 47.2 percent of passes of more than 20 yards downfield last season. That number was the worst in the league.

  • Carolina also might want to look for some offensive line help. Quarterback Cam Newton was sacked or put under duress on 26.7 percent of his drop backs last season, the fifth-highest rate in the NFL.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

  • As they switch to a 3-4 defense, the Saints need to find an interior run-stuffer. They allowed a league-worst 5.3 yards per carry on runs between the tackles last year.

  • They also need to improve the pass rush. The Saints averaged a sack once in every 21.6 drop backs last season, the fourth-worst rate in the NFL.

  • The Saints might also look for some secondary help. Last season, they allowed a league-high 8.3 yards per attempt on throws outside the numbers.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

  • It’s no secret the Bucs need help at cornerback. They allowed an NFL-high 17 plays of 30 or more yards outside the numbers last season.

  • The Bucs appear ready to let leading sacker Michael Bennett walk in free agency and let Da’Quan Bowers take his spot in the starting lineup. Still, the Bucs might want to add a pass-rush specialist. Last season, the Bucs sacked or put quarterbacks under duress on 17.4 percent of their drop backs. That was the worst rate in the NFL.

  • Tight end also could be a priority. Starter Dallas Clark is a free agent. Last season, he participated in 586 snaps. Thirty-two tight ends played more snaps than Clark.