NFL 2021 Free Agency Grades: NFC South

New Orleans Saints

New Orleans Saints: B-

Key Acquisitions
TE Nick Vannett (3yr / $8M)
DE Tano Kpassagnon (1yr / $4M)
CB P.J. Williams (1yr / $2.3M)

Key Departures
LB Alex Anzalone
DT Sheldon Rankins
DE Trey Hendrickson
CB Janoris Jenkins
TE Jared Cook,
WR Emmanuel Sanders
LB Kwon Alexander
G Nick Easton
QB Drew Brees

+ 2021 NFL Draft Pick: 226 (7th Round)
– IDL Malcom Brown

While the New Orleans Saints obviously took a severe hit to the quality of their team, they have managed this offseason beautifully. The team went to the offseason around $60-80 Million over the cap, and yet the team was able to make a couple of free-agent signings and bring back quite a few players. This was all due to some wonderful cap management and pushing the dead cap down the road to years where the cap should be literally 30-50 percent larger due to the massive TV deal.

Now, the team still lost a ton of great talent, and I’m not sure if the Saints got the best value for money on the guys they did end up signing. If the Saints would have gotten some of the better value per money players, like Malcolm Butler, for around $3 million, then I would have no issue making this offseason near an A level.

This was such an interesting offseason for the Saints, and they are ushering in a new era with the retirement of Drew Brees. I see this year as a re-build year where they determine who the QB of the future is. They have decent talent around the team, and with some major draft capital next year, the team could easily turn itself around and be competitive again. For now, I see this as a good offseason, but not enough to stay pace with the Bucs and Panthers in this division.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A+

Key Acquisitions

Key Departures
OT Joe Haeg
WR Antonio Brown (Projected)

The Buccaneers did not add anything in free agency, but they really did not lose anything either. Somehow this team was able to return just about every single player that it wanted to from their Super Bowl-winning roster, which is an absolute win.

This team is only going to get better as they gel and Brady gets to know the Arians system more. Now, there is no worry about anyone new coming in or any major piece leaving, as basically, this roster is going to be the same as it was last year. The only pieces leaving are Joe Haeg and Antonio Brown, not major losses. This will actually give a chance to 2nd-year wide receiver Tyler Johnson to really make a name for himself in the NFL.

The Buccaneers are still going to get better, as they have all their draft picks, and they can take the best player on their draft board with each one, considering they literally have no starting roster spots to fill. The same team that won the Super Bowl is going to be there. The Bucs have crushed this offseason.

Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers: A-

Key Acquisitions
IOL Pat Elfien (3yr / $13.5M)
OT Cameron Erving (2yr / $10M)
DE Morgan Fox (2yr / $8M)
OLB Haason Reddick (1yr / $8M)
CB AJ Bouye (2yr / $7.5M)
ILB Denzel Perryman (2yr / $6M)
WR David Moore (2yr / $4.75M)

Key Departures
WR Curtis Samuel
RB Mike Davis
DE Stephen Weatherly
DL Zach Kerr

+ QB Sam Darnold
– 2021 NFL Draft Picks: 186 (6th Round)
– 2022 NFL Draft Picks: 2nd Round, 4th Round

The Panthers had a stellar offseason, and I really only dislike two of their moves. This was probably the team closest to that A/A+ range that did not receive such a grade.

First, you have to talk about the Sam Darnold trade. Matt Rhule displayed a masterful understanding of offensive scheming last season. He also did it without his best weapon, Christian McCaffrey. However, Teddy Bridgewater was just not good enough to execute the passes needed to put this offense over the top. Sam Darnold is still young, and he’s never had an NFL caliber coach or NFL caliber weapons. This is a great gamble that could pay off for Rhule and the Panthers.

Next, the one part I dislike is the two offensive line signings. Cameron Erving and Pat Elfien are not good. I believe that the team could have spent that money on a single solid offensive lineman instead. Now you have two mediocre ones. With the #8 pick now free to draft BPA, the team could easily go Slater, Sewell, or get a solid lineman in the second. This would have been a much better solution than Elfien and Erving, who are both below-average starters.

However, the defensive acquisitions were absolutely fantastic. The team added three above-average starters in AJ Bouye, Denzel Perriman, and Haasan Reddick. You now have a good pass rusher, a solid corner, and a wonderful 4-3 or 3-4 inside linebacker to add to the young and explosive defense. I truly believe that with one addition to the defense in the draft, this unit could be top-10. This team has made great signings that compliment the incredible defensive drafting this team has accomplished the past two seasons.

Atlanta Falcons

Atlanta Falcons: F

Key Acquisitions
RB Mike Davis (2yr / $5.5M)

Key Departures
C Alex Mack
S Keanu Neal
G Justin McCray
S Ricardo Allen

The Atlanta Falcons did literally nothing this offseason and only got worse. This team needed to get creative with the cap, like their fellow NFC East rivals, the Saints, but simply sat on their hands and did nothing. The team added an average running back in Mike Davis for a nothing contract but lost Alex Mack with an already struggling offensive line.

The team pushed Matt Ryan’s cap down the road, so it sounds like they want to commit to him long-term. If this is the case, why not push more money down the road to bring in guys and be able to compete this year? This offseason will only partially make sense if the team drafts a QB and simply uses this as a transition season. If not, then I seriously have no clue what they are doing.

There really is not much to say. The Falcons decided not to do anything; however, their roster is in the forsaken middle-ground. They either needed to push the cap and attempt to make some impact signings on the offensive line or defense. Or this team needed to not push Matt Ryan’s cap and commit to a rebuild. This limbo between the two is not a good spot as an NFL franchise.

Matthew Amato is a UC Berkeley Economics and Philosophy graduate. Matthew follows and writes about the NFL, Fantasy sports, MLB, European soccer, Professional Lacrosse, and e-sports. He has managed his own tournament baseball team and coached high school lacrosse. In his free time, Matthew used to compete competitively in Call of Duty and Counter-Strike.

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