NFC South: Free agents

Let's start pondering free agents

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
1:21
PM ET
It’s too early to have a rock-solid list of guys who will be free agents in March. Teams still can re-sign their own players and there’s uncertainty about who will be restricted and unrestricted free agents because of the uncertainty surrounding the NFL’s labor agreement -- or lack of a labor agreement.

However, fans want to start talking free agency and throwing around names. With that in mind, The Sporting News has about the best list of free agents (potential, of course) I’ve seen.

Take a look and see who you think might fit with your team. But, just remember, this list can change dramatically between now and March.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Our final stop in our look at each NFC South team's potential free agents is Tampa Bay.

Unrestricted free agents: Wide receiver Antonio Bryant, cornerback Phillip Buchanon, defensive end Kevin Carter, receiver Michael Clayton, quarterback Jeff Garcia, receiver Cortez Hankton, defensive tackle Jovan Haye, quarterback Luke McCown, safety Jermaine Phillips, defensive tackle Ryan Sims and tight end Jerramy Stevens.

Restricted free agent: Tackle Donald Penn.

Overview: It's a good thing that the Bucs have $40.4 million in salary-cap room right now because they're going to need a good chunk of that to re-sign some players they want to keep. We still don't know what type of offense the Bucs want to run, but that doesn't matter when it comes to keeping Bryant. He'd fit in any scheme and he showed last season he can be a No. 1 receiver.

Bryant wants to stay with the Bucs because new coach Raheem Morris already knows how Bryant turned his life around and he doesn't want to go somewhere where he's starting from scratch. Clayton also could be brought back now that Jon Gruden isn't the coach. Clayton and Gruden didn't get along. Clayton has some solid skills and likes living in the Tampa Bay area. He could thrive with a new offensive coaching staff.

Again, much will depend on what type of offense the Bucs are going to run, but it seems unlikely they'll keep Garcia. It's time for the Bucs to get younger at quarterback.

Defensively, Buchanon, Carter, Haye and Phillips all were starters last season. Look for the Bucs to make a strong run to keep Buchanon, Haye and Phillips. Carter was productive last season, but he's 34. If he's willing to play at a reasonable salary, the Bucs might keep him, but Carter's not a priority.

It will be interesting to see what the new regime does with Stevens. He's had a history of off-field problems, but Gruden never met a player he wouldn't sign. Morris and new general manager Mark Dominik may put more emphasis on character. If they do, they probably won't bend any rules to keep a marginal tight end.

The Bucs also may try to lock up Penn, who has become a solid left tackle, with a long-term contract.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

We continue our team-by-team look at potential free agents with the New Orleans Saints.

 Vilma

Unrestricted free agents: Cornerback Aaron Glenn, quarterback Joey Harrington, receiver Devery Henderson, defensive tackle Antwan Lake, guard Matt Lehr, running back Aaron Stecker, tackle Jon Stinchcomb and linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Restricted free agents: Guard Jahri Evans, receiver Lance Moore, receiver Courtney Roby, defensive tackle Montavious Stanley and offensive lineman Zach Strief.

Overview: The Saints already are projected to be almost $5 million over the cap and that means even keeping their own free agents might be a challenge. But there are several who they have to find a way to keep and the list starts with Vilma. He's their best player on defense and new coordinator Gregg Williams has said he wants to build the defense around Vilma. The Saints will make sure he stays and then move on to the rest of their players.

Stinchcomb is an adequate right tackle and keeping him is also a goal. Henderson is coming off a decent season and the Saints would like to keep him, but there is some depth in the receiving corps so they won't pay him big money. Stecker and Lake also are role players the Saints would like to keep around.

Evans and Moore are restricted free agents, but both are very good and some other teams could be willing to make offers for them.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

Our next stop on our team-by-team look at potential free agents is the Carolina Panthers.

Carolina's list of players who can become unrestricted free agents includes linebacker Donte' Curry, tackle Jordan Gross, offensive lineman Geoff Hangartner, return man Mark Jones, long-snapper Jason Kyle, tackle Frank Omiyale, defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Adam Seward and defensive tackle Darwin Walker.

Carolina's restricted free agents are defensive tackle Gary Gibson, tight end Jeff King, safety Nate Salley and linebacker James Anderson.

Overview: It's going to be a very interesting offseason in Charlotte and the Panthers are going to have to make some tough decisions on keeping some of their own free agents. One decision appears to already have been made for them with Peppers saying he wants out. The Panthers still may put the franchise tag on him and try to trade him or else they'll just have to let him walk and get nothing in return.

Peppers' situation probably helps the chances of Gross returning. If the Panthers aren't paying Peppers big money, they should have room to get a deal done with Gross. That's critical because he's the focal point of a good offensive line.

Gross and Peppers are the only big-name free agents here, but the Panthers face tough calls on some guys who have been crucial role players. Hangartner is a versatile and very solid backup and the Panthers want to keep him. But that may be difficult because he's talented enough to get a shot at a starting spot somewhere else.

The special teams is also an area to keep a close eye on. Jones had a solid season as a return man, but the Panthers are expecting Ryne Robinson to come back from injury. Kyle is one of the best long-snappers in the league, but his veteran status makes him costly even if he plays for somewhere close to the minimum. Kyle is as dependable as they come, but the Panthers have a lot of other issues to deal with and not a lot of salary-cap room. Keeping a high-priced long-snapper might be difficult.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

We're going to start a team-by-team look at the potential free agents for the four NFC South teams.

ESPN's Jeremy Green passed along his list of each team's free agents that I'll share with you and then analyze the decisions each team has to make about keeping its own players.

We'll start with the Falcons.

Their list of unrestricted free agents includes linebacker Michael Boley, defensive end Chauncey Davis, cornerback Domonique Foxworth, tackle Wayne Gandy, linebacker Tony Gilbert, defensive tackle Grady Jackson, defensive tackle Jason Jefferson, punter Michael Koenen, safety Lawyer Milloy, tight end Justin Peelle and linebacker Coy Wire.

The restricted free agents are tackle Tyson Clabo, guard Harvey Dahl, safety Jamaal Fudge and center Ben Wilkerson.

Overview: Believe it or not, the priority here might be keeping Koenen. He's one of the league's steadiest punters and gave the Falcons lots of good field position. Davis and Foxworth might be next on the list. Although Atlanta's probably going to look for help at defensive end, Davis showed some promise this year and the Falcons may move Jamaal Anderson inside to tackle. They need a guy like Davis in their end rotation.

Foxworth was a great pickup from Denver. The Falcons may look for a cornerback in the draft, but Foxworth has shown he can start or be a good nickelback. Jackson is 35 and Milloy is 34. Both had some good moments last season, but it's likely the Falcons will let them test the market. They'll look to get younger at those positions, but might turn back to Jackson or Milloy if they feel they haven't upgraded enough at those positions.

Boley fell out of favor with the coaching staff last season and lost his starting job to Wire. The Falcons will likely let Boley walk and make an attempt to keep Wire. But they'll be looking for more help at outside linebacker because Keith Brooking showed signs of age last season. He could retire or be released and the Falcons need to surround middle linebacker Curtis Lofton with some talent.

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