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Free Agency Fits For The NFC South

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The 2014 season has been a disappointing year for the NFC South and the team that earns the division crown will do so with a losing record. In the NFL’s worst division, all four teams need to make substantial moves to become the perennial contenders they all wish to be.

Here’s a look at potential free agent targets for each NFC South team to improve at positions of need.

Carolina Panthers

Last year, the Panthers were one of the better teams in the league, rallying behind a talented defense and a healthy Cam Newton. This year they took significant steps backwards but still find themselves in the playoff hunt as they remain in contention for the division crown. The Panthers have some defined holes to fills this offseason with or without a playoff berth.

Torrey Smith- Wide Receiver, Baltimore Ravens

After watching Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell move on in the offseason to both have successful years with their respective new teams, the Panthers need to address this position in the offseason and give quarterback Cam Newton some legitimate weapons in the passing game. Torrey Smith has been a solid NFL wide receiver and while he may have never taken that next step to be an elite receiver, he is somebody defenses have to account for on every snap due to his deep speed and large frame. That status as a feared deep threat would be the perfect complement to standout rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, giving the Panthers a solid trio of pass catchers for their franchise quarterback to lean on.

Bryan Bulaga- Right Tackle, Green Bay Packers

With former left tackle Jordan Gross retiring in the offseason and former right tackle Byron Bell sliding over to the left side in his place, the offensive line has endured some struggles. Carolina’s issues up front have been a detriment to their season and they will need to address this issue in the offseason. While the Green Bay Packers have had some minor issues blocking themselves, Bulaga is one of their few bright spots. A young and experienced starter in this league, Bulaga would help any team reduce the pressure on their quarterback while opening running lanes for an effective running game.

Atlanta Falcons

Last season was a disaster for the Falcons and this year hasn’t been much better. Fortunately for them, the state of the division and key victories have helped the Falcons stay in contention for the division crown, but there is still plenty of room for improvement this offseason.

Charles Clay- Tight End, Miami Dolphins

The Falcons have great playmakers on the outside with Julio Jones and Roddy White but Atlanta has sorely missed the presence of Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez occupying the defense’s attention in the the middle of the field. Levine Toilolo is a good depth player, but not the kind of dynamic option that is going to propel a team’s passing game to the next level. Charles Clay is that type of player, really coming on strong over the past two seasons, establishing himself as one of the better tight ends in the league. While his statistics are down from last year’s breakout season, his versatility to line up all over the formation and ability to get open make him a mismatch. Adding a player of his ilk would provide Matt Ryan a safety valve for him to keep the chains moving.

David Harris- Inside Linebacker, New York Jets

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has had to resort to the next man standing too often within his linebacking core due to injuries the past few years. It’s time for the Falcons to address the issues as they could really stand to benefit from a heady veteran presence to captain their defense. David Harris is exactly that type of player, the veteran has been a stalwart presence for Rex Ryan’s defenses over the years, consistently leading them in tackles and getting his fellow players lined up correctly in Ryan’s exotic blitz heavy schemes. Similar to what Capers likes to do with his defensive fronts, adding Harris to the fold would bring stability to the unit and allow Capers more flexibility with his aggressive play calling because of how improved they will be in alignment and assignment with Harris in the fold.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have been the “Yuckaneers” this year, vying for the top pick in the draft and heading in the opposite direction than what was expected when they made the move to bring in Lovie Smith as their head coach. That move coupled with the spending spree they went on during last year’s free agency period, have not yielded the results they hoped for. Needless to say, there will be plenty of work for them to get done during this offseason.

Nate Allen- Safety, Philadelphia Eagles

In Lovie Smith’s cover-2 heavy pass defense, there is a need to have two versatile safeties that can cover a lot of ground in coverage and have the ability to be interchanged, as that allows them to hide their coverages. While they have one decent safety in the high priced Dashon Goldson, the Buccaneers have dealt with musical chairs opposite of him. Bringing back the former USF Bull to Tampa would be a good move for them, as Allen can play both at the free and strong safety spots. Equally good in coverage as he is in run support, Allen is not an elite player, but Allen is the type of bargain signing that could definitely fill a glaring hole in their secondary.

Derek Newton- Right Tackle, Houston Texans

The Bucs invested a good amount of money this past offseason to try and sure up a leaky offensive line. The problem with their strategy was they only addressed one half of the line’s issues, leaving the right side of the line to develop and pick up the slack. That strategy has backfired on them, while most of the line’s issues can be attributed to a lack of continuity, especially with Logan Mankins coming into the fold right before the start of the regular season, the Bucs can definitely stand to improve at both right guard and tackle. Enter Derek Newton, a young up and coming player in this league who earned a spot on the starting offensive line for the Texans and has not relinquished it by continuing to get better every year. A road grater in the running game and solid in pass pro, Newton would be a welcome sight for the new quarterback the Bucs are bound to bring in this offseason.

New Orleans Saints

It’s clear the glory days are over for the New Orleans Saints and while they remain an explosive offensive team, their deficiencies on defense are the main culprit for their downfall. They can no longer try to patch it up, they need an overhaul of that unit if they plan to have any kind of resurgence.

Dan Williams- Nose Tackle, Arizona Cardinals

The Saints are soft up front, aside form Cameron Jordan and Junior Galette in the front seven, everyone else can be replaced. For a defense to be good or great, it starts up front in the trenches, if the Saints are to continue to run a 3-4 scheme, they have a dire need for someone to anchor that alignment. Who better to bring that stability than the nose tackle who currently anchors one of the best defenses in the league? Arizona’s Dan Williams is a mammoth of a man and has surprising quickness for a man of his stature, an addition of his caliber would immediately make other players on their defense look better.

Jabaal Sheard- Outside Linebacker, Cleveland Browns

The Saints need another pass rusher to bookend Junior Galette on the strong side desperately, giving them someone who can anchor against the run and provide a balanced pass rush. While Sheard may be better served signing with a team that allows him to return to his natural 4-3 defensive end position, Sheard can benefit from signing with a team that needs his skills every down instead of making him part of a rotation. Sheard is also a violent type of player who would bring a nasty playing attitude to a defense that is too soft and in need of an attitude adjustment.


About Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez

Tony Lopez is a Part-Time Jedi and Full-Time Football Insider who has used the force to cover the NFL since 2009. Formerly a radio intern for "The Fabulous Sports Babe" and then co-host to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, Lopez took his talents to South Beach where he's contributed to the FanSided Network and Bleacher Report over the years.