NFC South: 2014 NFC Free-Agency Primer

Free-agency primer: Falcons

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
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Key free agents: DT Jonathan Babineaux, C Joe Hawley, DT Peria Jerry, TE Chase Coffman, OL Mike Johnson.

Where they stand: Nothing is more important for the Falcons this offseason than improving up front. They need more toughness on both the offensive and defensive lines. Getting a pass-rusher would be key, but they might have to wait until the draft to fill that need after watching top target Brian Orakpo get franchised by the Washington Redskins. A safety could help, too, but top target Jairus Byrd is likely to be too costly to pair alongside William Moore. The Falcons won't invest in a tight end to replace the retired Tony Gonzalez, although they could add another body to the mix.

What to expect: The Falcons will fill a hole at right guard after watching the now-departed Garrett Reynolds and Peter Konz struggle at the position last season. Look for the Falcons to target Kansas City’s Jon Asamoah, provided he reaches free agency. Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli drafted Asamoah when Pioli was the Chiefs' general manager. Getting a couple of defensive linemen will be key, too, so keep an eye on Miami’s Paul Soliai as a run-stuffer. And if recently released Champ Bailey is willing to play nickelback, don’t be surprised if the Falcons try to bring the veteran back to his home state.

Free-agency primer: Panthers

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: FS Mike Mitchell, WR Ted Ginn Jr., CB Captain Munnerlyn, OT Bruce Campbell.

Where they stand: The immediate future of Carolina’s top two free agents -- left tackle Jordan Gross and defensive end Greg Hardy -- has been decided. Gross retired, and Hardy was franchised. Now the Panthers turn their attention to Mitchell at free safety and Ginn at wide receiver. They want Mitchell back because of the attitude he brought to the league's second-ranked defense. They also like Ginn because of his value as a kick returner beyond stretching the field for quarterback Cam Newton. Look for Carolina to let its other free agents test the open market. If the price is right, the Panthers will bring some back. If not, they’ll look for bargain upgrades.

What to expect: Gross' retirement and the uncertainty surrounding the future of wide receiver Steve Smith make signing a veteran at each position almost a necessity. Carolina won’t spend a ton on either because of salary-cap limitations, so look for general manager Dave Gettleman to be patient and let the market level out before making a big run at players. One of the intriguing names is wide receiver Sidney Rice, who was released by Seattle. He's 27, grew up about an hour from Charlotte and went to the University of South Carolina less than two hours away. He would provide the big target Newton hasn't had.
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Key free agents: LB Adam Hayward, FB Erik Lorig, LB Jonathan Casillas and WR Tiquan Underwood.

Where they stand: The Buccaneers don't have any huge names among their own free agents, but they'd like to keep some of them as role players. Hayward is a key special-teams player and Lorig is important as the lead blocker for Doug Martin in the running game. If Casillas returns, he's a candidate to start at strongside linebacker. The major need on defense is for a pass-rusher. On offense, the team may look to overhaul its offensive line. Tight end and depth at wide receiver also are big needs.

What to expect: The Bucs were 4-12 last season and they have a new coaching staff and general manager. That means there will be significant changes. The Bucs have $18 million in cap room, so they’re going to be active in free agency, even though they've stated their goal is to build through the draft. Look for connections to the new regime to play into free-agent signings. Return man Devin Hester and cornerback Charles Tillman played for coach Lovie Smith in Chicago and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier worked with defensive end Jared Allen in Minnesota. All of those players could be prime targets. A veteran quarterback also could be added to the mix, with Josh McCown and Michael Vick as possibilities.

Free-agency primer: Saints

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

.Key free agents: TE Jimmy Graham (franchised), RT Zach Strief, C Brian de la Puente, S Malcolm Jenkins, OLB Parys Haralson, WR Robert Meachem

Where they stand: The New Orleans Saints have a limited amount of cap space. But they should be able to make room to re-sign one or two of their own starters (in addition to Graham) and add one or two newcomers. The secondary should be a top priority after they released veterans Jabari Greer and Roman Harper last month. The Saints should be in the market for a cornerback who can come in right away and start -- and maybe a safety, too, if they don’t re-sign Jenkins. The offensive line will become a priority if they don’t re-sign Strief or de la Puente -- although they could address that in the draft. They also need to get younger at receiver and linebacker, although those spots also could be addressed in the draft.

What to expect: First and foremost, I ultimately expect the Saints to keep Graham on a long-term deal, although it could be a drawn-out negotiation. Beyond that, I expect a very similar approach to last year, when the Saints lost one key free agent (left tackle Jermon Bushrod), signed one high-priced free agent (cornerback Keenan Lewis) and added some nice depth at value prices (linebacker Victor Butler and tight end Benjamin Watson). My best guess is they keep one of their two starting linemen and add a starting-caliber cornerback (maybe in the range of the San Francisco 49ers' Tarell Brown or the Carolina Panthers' Captain Munnerlyn).

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