NFC South: The Replacements
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
A look at the key loss and his replacement for each team in the division:
Who's out: Keith Brooking, LB (wasn't re-signed and went to Dallas as a free agent)
Who's in: Mike Peterson, LB (signed as free agent from Jacksonville)
Outlook: On the surface, swapping one aging linebacker for another may look like a wash. But, keep in mind, Peterson played for coach Mike Smith in Jacksonville. That means Peterson is Smith's kind of player -- something Brooking and fellow departed linebacker Michael Boley were not. Brooking may have been an institution in Atlanta, but he looked old last year and looked lost in the playoff loss to Arizona.
Peterson spent most of his career playing middle linebacker, but he'll move to the weak side. Smith already has designated Peterson as a team leader and this is a chance for a fresh start. That's something Peterson wants. His once-sterling reputation was dirtied a bit when he stood up to coach Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville last year. This is Peterson's chance for the last laugh.
Who's out: Ken Lucas, CB (released in a salary-cap move and signed with Seattle)
Who's in: Richard Marshall, CB
Outlook: Marshall had been the nickel back the last couple of years, which essentially meant he was a starter. But Marshall has a bit of an ego (not a bad thing for a cornerback) and quietly kept saying he thought he should be in the starting lineup. Now, he'll get his chance. (Note to Marshall: Be careful what you wish for because now you have to go against Steve Smith in practice every day.)
There really shouldn't be much drop-off because Lucas showed signs of age the second half of last season. In fact, the Panthers believe Marshall can be better than Lucas. The only downside is the Panthers have to find a new nickel back.
Who's out: Deuce McAllister, RB (released and has not signed elsewhere)
Outlook: Yeah, Thomas and Bush were ahead of McAllister last year. But the icon of the Gulf Coast region still was on the team. Even as he stood on the sideline, there was always a suspicion from fans McAllister might be thrust back into a prominent role.
Now that he's really gone, fans don't have a safety net to grasp for. Neither does coach Sean Payton. Thomas showed some signs of being a pretty good back last year, and Bush flashed his usual promise at times. But it's time for Thomas, Bush and, maybe a short-yardage back to be named later to step up. The Saints are going to be a passing team as long as Payton's around, but it sure wouldn't hurt to have at least something that looks like a running game.
Who's out: Derrick Brooks, LB (released and has not signed elsewhere)
Who's in: Jermaine Phillips, LB
Outlook: In the first real move of the new regime of Raheem Morris and Mark Dominik, the Bucs made the bold decision to release Brooks, the best player in franchise history. Yes, he's old and yes, the situation could have been handled better. But it's over now.
The Bucs had a plan all along. That was moving Phillips from safety to Brooks' spot on the weak side. If Morris, who was Phillips' position coach last year, didn't think this would work, it wouldn't have happened. Phillips might not be the Brooks of five years ago, but he might be better than the Brooks of the last two seasons.