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Monday, March 11, 2013
NFC South free-agency primer

By Pat Yasinskas

» NFC Free Agency: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Atlanta Falcons
GENERAL MANAGER: Thomas Dimitroff
HEAD COACH: Mike Smith

Cap status: The Falcons freed up a nice chunk of cap room by releasing John Abraham, Michael Turner and Dunta Robinson. But they've used much of that to re-sign their own free agents.

Strategy: Atlanta's philosophy is to keep its core together. Still, the Falcons are usually good for one or two significant moves per offseason. There is a bit of salary-cap room to work with and more could be created with some contract restructures. The Falcons have several areas of need, most notably at defensive end and running back. It would be difficult for Atlanta to get a top-notch pass rusher with the 30th overall pick in the draft. That's why I suspect the Falcons could make a splash move to bring in someone such as a Cliff Avril, Dwight Freeney or Osi Umenyiora.

Carolina Panthers
HEAD COACH: Ron Rivera

Cap status: The Panthers had to work like crazy just to get under the salary cap. They're already facing salary-cap nightmares for 2014, so I wouldn't expect a big spending spree.

Strategy: This is Dave Gettleman's first free-agency period as a general manager, so we don't know his tendencies. But the cap situation assures that he won't be making a bunch of huge signings. Still, the Panthers have more needs than they'll be able to fill in the draft, so they may have to dabble a bit in free agency. They might not be able to get a top-notch cornerback in the middle of the first round of the draft. They need a No. 1 cornerback after releasing Chris Gamble, so they may have to look for one in free agency.

New Orleans Saints
HEAD COACH: Sean Payton

Cap status: The Saints spent the past few weeks digging out from a cap mess, so they don't have a lot of room to work with.

Strategy: Even with the cap situation, it has never been the style of general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton to be complacent. They'll be creative and aggressive in free agency. They have to retool a defense that was the worst in the league last year and they're switching to a 3-4 scheme. They need players that can fit that scheme, particularly a pass rusher or two. They also could use some help in the secondary. The Saint also may be in the market for a left tackle if they're unable to prevent Jermon Bushrod from leaving via free agency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
HEAD COACH: Greg Schiano

Cap status: The Bucs are the one team in the division that doesn't have to worry much about the cap. They're entering free agency with more than $30 million in cap room.

Strategy: The Bucs have major needs at cornerback, and I'm expecting them to do something dramatic, whether it's trading for Darrelle Revis or signing a significant free agent. The Bucs could even end up trying to get two starting cornerbacks out of free agency. And it won't stop at cornerback. The Bucs also could use help at tight end, slot receiver, outside linebacker and depth on the defensive line.