With the draft in the rearview mirror, what is the most pressing issue on each NFC South team’s agenda?
Atlanta Falcons: Their most important issue is off the field. Quarterback Matt Ryan is headed for the last year of his contract, and there’s no way the team wants him to get close to becoming a free agent. Ryan is the franchise in Atlanta, and general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows he’ll have to pay accordingly. Recent deals for Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers have set the parameters for a Ryan deal. Dimitroff and Ryan aren’t the type to let this become a distraction, so I’d expect a deal to be reached sometime between now and the start of training camp.
Carolina Panthers: Amazingly, the Panthers didn’t address their secondary in the draft. They did address it in free agency, but only by adding some journeymen. The front seven of this defense has the potential to be as good as any in the league, but the secondary has some major holes. At cornerback, the Panthers have a bunch of players who are capable of being No. 2 or No. 3 guys. But they don’t have anything close to a true No. 1 cornerback. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find a true No. 1 cornerback at this time of year, and the Panthers have limited salary-cap room. But it wouldn’t hurt to bring in another corner or two to increase the competition and hope that prompts someone to elevate his game enough to become a No. 1 cornerback.
New Orleans Saints: Once the team begins its on-field portion of the offseason workouts, things are going to get very competitive. As the Saints switch to a 3-4 scheme, there are a lot of starting jobs open on the defense. There are particularly big questions at outside linebacker and in the secondary. Other than cornerback Keenan Lewis, the salary cap prohibited the Saints from making any big signings in free agency. Instead, they brought in some lower-level free agents and added some parts in the draft. The competition for starting jobs will start in the offseason program and will intensify in training camp.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs will tell you they’re all right at tight end. They think that Luke Stocker can do more than he has in the past and that Tom Crabtree can be more of a pass-catcher than he was in his Green Bay days. They might be right. But I still think the Bucs need to add a pass-catching tight end with some experience. They’ve done just about everything else to make sure quarterback Josh Freeman is surrounded with all the talent he needs to succeed. But tight end is the one spot the Bucs haven’t upgraded.