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Friday, February 15, 2013
Eight in the Box: Must-keep free agents

By Pat Yasinskas

NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to "Eight in the Box," a new NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Which free agent is essential for each team to keep from its 2012 roster?

Atlanta Falcons: Left tackle Sam Baker. Keeping safety William Moore and cornerback Brent Grimes also is important. But keeping Baker is the priority because he protects the blind side for quarterback Matt Ryan. Baker stayed healthy and had his best season in 2012. Baker may never be an All-Pro, but the Falcons aren’t in position to get a better left tackle in free agency or the draft.

Carolina Panthers: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. The Panthers really don’t have much in the line of potential unrestricted free agents, although they’ll have to release some veterans just to get under the salary cap. But Edwards is the one potential free agent they should keep. He's 31, but Edwards can give the Panthers another solid year or two.

New Orleans Saints: Center Brian De La Puente. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod might seem like a bigger priority, but think about how the Saints structure their offensive line. In their system, the inside is more important than the outside. Bushrod is likely to get big money on the open market and the Saints might not have the cap space to keep him. De La Puente isn’t likely to cost much and he'll keep the middle of the line strong.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Defensive end Michael Bennett. He produced nine sacks in a season in which fellow starter Adrian Clayborn went down with an injury. Keep Bennett, Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers together and Tampa Bay can have a nice rotation of defensive ends for the next several years.