An early look at the free-agent situation in the NFC South.
Note: These projected lists reflect notable unrestricted free agents for each team. The NFL will not issue an official list of free agents until the signing period begins March 5.
Key figures: Look for the Falcons to try to re-sign Williams before he can hit the market. He was playing well before he was injured. Keeping Williams would allow the Falcons to focus on getting a big-time pass-rusher in the draft or free agency. Redman is an experienced backup for Matt Ryan and the Falcons would like to keep him. The list of potential restricted free agents has some big names with Harvey Dahl, Tyson Clabo, Michael Koenen, Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling among the players the Falcons don’t want to lose.
Key figures: The Panthers face a monumental decision with Peppers. They have yet to place the franchise tag on him and that would cost more than $20 million. Peppers again is saying he wants out of Carolina and the Panthers just may give him his wish and let him walk. Although he was productive, Peppers was inconsistent and never became the leader the team wanted. Muhammad is the only No. 2 receiver the franchise ever had who has been able to coexist peacefully and productively with Steve Smith. Muhammad could return in a backup role, but the team needs to find a younger starter to pair with Smith. Linebacker Thomas Davis will be restricted and the team must keep him because he’s become a core player.
Key figures: The Super Bowl champions face a difficult call on Sharper. The veteran came in and had a fabulous season on a one-year contract. Using the franchise tag on Sharper might not be a bad move because it would guarantee him sticking around for another year. Given Sharper’s age, a long-term contract might not be a wise investment. Fujita also played at a high level last season, but he’s getting older and the Saints have some promising young linebackers. But there is something to be said for continuity when you win a Super Bowl, and the Saints will make some effort to keep their veteran leaders. They also have a slew of restricted free agents, highlighted by guard Jahri Evans, to protect.
Key figures: Bryant played for the franchise tag ($10 million) last season and the Bucs hoped he could show consistency and earn a long-term contract. That didn’t happen and Bryant didn’t endear himself to the organization by making some negative comments about the coaching staff and quarterback Josh Freeman. The Bucs may make some sort of offer to Bryant, but it won’t be a big one. Although they desperately need help at receiver, they won’t be crushed if Crowell walks. It’s kind of the same story for Crowell. He never really caught on before getting hurt last year and he doesn’t seem to be a big part of any future plans. The Bucs have a bunch of restricted free agents, such as running back Cadillac Williams, linebacker Barrett Ruud and left tackle Donald Penn. In other years, they would already have been locked up with long-term deals, but the restricted tags have taken away that sense of urgency.