Free Agency Craziness: AFC & NFC South
Here it is, the final part of my free agency review and it is arguably the 2 Divisions that made the most moves. Obviously in other Divisions there has been a number of moves since I started writing this so keep an eye on the podcast for updates (or the NFL website). Anyhoo…
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts were probably the most mistake ridden team to make the playoffs & won a lot of games on the back of the many talents of their QB, Andrew Luck. But to get to the next step this year they need to add some pieces and become a complete team. Doing this sooner rather than later will be paramount, as they try to put together a team before having to pay their star QB the big bucks. So losing their star Safety is a bad start, as Bethea moves on to the Niners, who also have Superbowl aspirations. Losing Donald Brown is a big loss too, but does show that they still have faith in Trent Richardson, which they give up their no. 1 draft pick for. Keeping hold of Vontae Davis was a big deal too, who will surely add some Veteran Leadership to what has to be a newly constructed Secondary. As for new faces at Lucas Oil field, we will get to see D’Qwell Jackson who will once again add some Veteran leadership to the Colts Linebacker Corps. Arthur Jones was another great addition too adding some much-needed depth to a fairly pedestrian (I am aware of Mathis), D-Line. On Offence there hasn’t been a great deal of change and really there isn’t much need for change, but taking a flyer on Hakeem Nicks is great move. My only concern is a lack of depth, particularly on the O-line, but in general it is a concern. The Colts suffered more injuries than any other team last year and depth should be a huge concern. Especially since they know they don’t have a no.1 pick. All this could be point less if Luck takes another step towards greatness however.
Tennessee Titans: The Titans are a team that has lots of serviceable pieces, but very few great ones. After a season riddled with injuries, it’s now or never time for Jake Long, who did show flashes of brilliance whilst he was on the field. Despite being a roster with a large number of average players, one of their stand out areas was their Secondary. Which unfortunately got weaker after losing Verner to the Bucs. Kenny Britt was an obvious loss, after finding it very difficult to get on the field with a Titans team that had lost patience with him. Tennessee did manage to keep hold of some important pieces. Hard hitting Pollard keeps the Secondary looking fearsome and Leon Washington always adds some danger on Special Teams. As for additions, it definitely fields like they got better. Michael Oher is questionable in the run game, but he will definitely add some much-needed protection for Jake Long. Dexter McCluster adds some fire power to the Offence and is a versatile Wideout that will keep opponents guessing. Finally back on Defence Shaun Phillips adds some leadership to the D-line which looks like its taken a step in the right direction, still though a lot of work for the Titans, who need to get great in the draft.
Jacksonville Jaguars: I am a huge fan of what this team have been doing over the last year and what they look to be doing this year. The Jags just don’t seem to be approaching this with any kind of “win now”, mentality and look to be improving for the long haul, much like the Seahawks have been doing. If you want a measure on how well this team has done so far in letting un-necessary players go, look at who their free agents have signed with, pretty much no one. MJD is closest to signing a contract with the Raiders and you have to imagine he is looking for more money than the Jags would want to give up. The players they kept on simply make this team better. Chad Henne signing a 1 year deal means if they opt into a QB this year, they don’t have to start him immediately, if they don’t, then no great loss, they’ve got a QB that did a pretty good job last year. Even better than how they’ve handled their own players, is who they’ve brought in. Taking advantage of a Seahawks team loaded with stars is a great move, in particular bringing in Clemons and Bryant makes this D-line a genuine force, that was already showing signs of progress last year. Finally Toby Gerhaart now has a chance to be a legitimate no. 1 RB and the Jags should be applauded for seeing obvious talent in the Vikings no. 2. The Jags will get even better through the draft, although in recent years their drafting history has been a hot mess. Whatever happens to the Jags, whether they get great this year, or within the next couple, the fact is they will get better.
Houston Texans: The Houston Texans have one need over any others. They need a QB. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a great free agent edition, but not their starter. What he is however is exceptionally smart and knows he can have a career simply by mentoring young QB’s which as well as being a decent back up will be why he was brought into this team. For a team that finished worst over all, this team has relative few needs and this is with letting a few familiar faces go. Antonio Smith has been an under the radar Defensive End that has, in recent years reaped the rewards from playing on the other end of JJ Watt, but now that he’s getting up in age, it’s time for both parties to move on. Ben Tate had a great season covering for Arian Foster, but the fact remains that he wants too much money and as such has to go. Owen Daniels has been a reliable Tight End for the Texans, but the rise of Garrett Graham meant they needed to make a difficult decision, unfortunately it meant they said goodbye to Daniels. As for arrivals, its been pretty nondescript, but in truth the main missing piece is QB shaped and they will have to approach that through the draft. With some good draft picks, the Texans could be back in play off contention before we know it.
New Orleans Saints: At the end of the season the Saints were in a cap space pickle, Jimmy Graham needed a new contract and their Secondary was getting up in age. So get them out of their conundrum they’ve had to get rid of a number of players who have forged this team over the last few years. This player cull includes: Roman Harper, Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Malcolm Jenkins, Lance Moore and Jabari Greer. This is a lot of players, that will be hard to replace, but it did get them below the salary cap and with a little spare change to pick up Jairus Byrd, who to many was the no. 1 player in free agency. In another cost cutting move the Saints traded multi-purpose back Sproles to the Eagles for an extra 5th round draft pick, which could prove vital for a Saints team that now has to rebuild from the ground up, minus some stand out players. Regardless of all these players leaving this team, the Saints are still contenders, simply because of still having Brees, Graham and now new star player, Jairus Byrd, who is a great addition.
Carolina Panthers: What a difference 3 months make. When the Panthers made it to the play-offs they were considered contenders and with a balanced team it genuinely looked like they could make it. Now the problem is simple. They have 2 key areas where they lack serious talent. Wide Receiver and Corner. At the Corner position they can cover it with an epically good front 7, maybe the best in the league. Receiver is a huge problem however. In Free Agency they’ve lost, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn and Dominik Hixon. Pretty much their entire Receiver corps. Replacing them through the draft is one solution. The draft is loaded with Receivers, but in this they are taking a huge risk and without any veteran leadership and with a QB with questionable accuracy, this could be a mix for numerous interceptions and could see the Panthers take a significant drop off in a Division that has seen much improvement from the 2 teams that fell a little short last year. The Panthers will need an epically good draft to carry on being contenders in a Division set for a rise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: All change in Tampa, all change. The change around for the Bucs didn’t start and finish with the uniforms (which for the record is a good thing). For starters Lovie Smith came in replacing the ever unpopular Greg Schiano. Next they reconstructed pretty much their whole team, letting go of another pieces that just didn’t fit. This includes Derrelle Revis who left sunny Tampa Bay for the cold weather of New England. Despite being one of the top Corners in the league, he doesn’t fit with Lovies plans and was scheduled to make a ridiculous amount of money that could be spent better elsewhere. Which is what they did with the extra cap space. After losing a number of poor fits, the Bucs loaded their team with players that fit in with what Lovie’s plans. Josh McCown is a good start, a QB that Lovie Smith is familiar with and has a work ethic that will surely rub off on a lack lustre Offence. To protect the new QB the Bucs added a number of Linemen, that at the very least will add much-needed depth to a position that has been weak for a number of years. On Defence they started moving towards a unit that looks more like Lovie will want to work with. Replacing Revis with Verner is a genius move as he looks set to become one of the better Corners in the league. On the D-line they added a great player in Michael Johnson. Johnson has potential but his motor is regularly questioned, regardless they have improved on both sides of the ball and while the Panthers and Saints have stuttered slightly, the Bucs could be ready to pounce.
Atlanta Falcons: Bad season last year for a team that was considered contenders, but with a huge contract thrown at Matt Ryan and a chunk of their roster tied to equally over priced contracts. The Falcons lacked depth and were hit quite seriously with the injury bug. One area in particular that they lacked talent was in the trenches, which is the first area they addressed & on the first day of free agency. Adding Soliai, Jackson and Asomoah was huge and should vastly improve a team that already had its weapons in place. These were in addition to the re-signing of the players who were about to be without a contract ( Babineaux, Peters and Johnson), which now means the O-line & D-line are one of the strengths of this team and have the depth to win considerably more games. One final pick up worth a mention is Devin Hester, who was released by the Bears. Hester won’t add much to the Receiver Corps, but he does help a problematic return game. All in all the Falcons took a huge step forward and are once again contenders in what is shaping up to be an exceptional division.
There we go. We’re done. After 2 EPIC weeks, I’ve covered every team. I’d love your opinions so feel free to hit us up on twitter (@gridirongents), anyway see you all soon!