The NFC South is in a state of transition; none of its four teams have had their current starting quarterback for more than two years. With Tom Brady returning, the Bucs are clear favorites to repeat as division champions, especially while the Falcons enter a rebuild without Matt Ryan. Elsewhere, the Saints and Panthers face interesting decisions in the draft that could propel them to contention, even if it feels unlikely. What these rivals all have in common is that none have had a perfect offseason. Here are four offseason moves, be they a free agent deals, trades, extensions, or any other front office decision, that may come back to haunt the NFC South:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Not Obtaining More Secondary Help
Admittedly, the Bucs’ limited cap space meant few transactions outside of retaining key pieces of their roster, such as wide receiver Chris Godwin and center Ryan Jensen. Re-signing their best cornerback, Carlton Davis, and adding veteran Logan Ryan at safety were smart moves by GM Jason Licht, but it’s hard to see where else Tampa Bay’s defensive backfield improved. Cornerbacks Jamel Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting are entering the final years of their rookie contracts, but the depth behind them is thin at best. Remember, this is the same team that needed to coax 33-year-old Richard Sherman on board as an injury replacement. Without young, long-term pieces that can step in right away, Tampa’s pass coverage will remain too reliant on its defensive line.
New Orleans Saints: Not Replacing Terron Armstead
Once talented left tackle Terron Armstead turned down the Saints’ offer and left for Miami, it was fair to think New Orleans would have a plan B. However, more than two weeks after the deal was made official, the Saints have yet to sign any starting-caliber offensive lineman, let alone a quality tackle that can recoup some of Armstead’s value. After their recent trade with the Eagles, it would make sense if the team took a wide receiver and a tackle with their two first-round picks. Still, signing a veteran who can step in and provide depth, as well as leadership for any young rookies, should be considered. You can never have too much offensive line depth.
Atlanta Falcons: The Return For Matt Ryan
Trading Matt Ryan, as difficult as it might be for Falcons fans, was the right move. Ryan can still play above-average football, but his age (36) and contract (set to earn $17.2 million in 2022) meant he was never a fit for the team’s current rebuilding phase. What the Falcons got wrong was their price tag. In an offseason that saw the Washington Commanders give away a third rounder for the inconsistent, injury-prone, and more expensive Carson Wentz, it’s somewhat surprising that the Falcons couldn’t do better than a third of their own for Ryan. Granted, Washington’s foolishness shouldn’t be held against other franchises, but in a quarterback-hungry league, there were certainly more suitors than Indianapolis. Creating a bidding war is tough, but Atlanta’s front office has to be knocked a bit for not getting the most value out of their former quarterback.
Carolina Panthers: Settling for Cameron Erving at Left Tackle
This prediction, like most that came before it, could look silly on draft night if the Panthers end up selecting a left tackle in one of the first few rounds. However, until that happens, we can only judge Carolina’s offensive line on paper, and it feels … mixed right now. The team added reliable veterans Bradley Bozeman and Austin Corbett to solidify the middle of the line, and Taylor Moton should be set at right tackle. Elsewhere, the team is still in need of more contributors. Cameron Erving is entering the final year of a two-year, $10 million dollar contract signed last winter, and he has yet to show he can be anything more than a capable backup as a pro. A mediocre 2021 PFF grade of 56 still represented the second-best mark of Erving’s seven-year career. If the Panthers are truly committed to Sam Darnold at quarterback, or if they want to take a rookie, then they can’t set them up to fail by trotting out an offensive line with major holes. With Erving’s deal set to expire, Carolina should be aggressive in acquiring a tackle in the draft.