Free Agency Moves – NFC South

No division is set for a bigger top-to-bottom overhaul than the NFC South – from the head coach and staff around him to the quarterback and all the other players on the roster, no stone is being left unturned and no position is sacrosanct

The NFC South of 2023 will bear no resemblance whatsoever to its predecessor and while it is the early days, the NFL betting markets are beginning to form an early opinion based on the moves that have already been made.

In this column, we look at the free agency comings and goings that underscore the NFL odds as they are in their current form to win the NFC South division.

NFL Odds – To Win NFC South

  • New Orleans Saints +135
  • Carolina Panthers +250
  • Atlanta Falcons +375
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers +450

1. Saints +135

  • Key acquisitions: QB Derek Carr (Raiders, released), RB Jamaal Williams (Lions), DT Khalen Saunders (Chiefs)
  • Key re-signings: QB Jameis Winston, TE Jowan Jennings, DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, DB J.T. Gray, WR Michael Thomas
  • Key losses: DE Marcus Davenport (Vikings), DE Shy Tuttle (Panthers), QB Andy Dalton (Panthers) WR Deonte Harry (Bills), DT David Onyemata (Bills), LB Kaden Elliss (Bills)

It’s no secret that the quarterback position was the top priority this offseason. Several quarterbacks have come and gone since Drew Brees retired in 2021 and none of them have worked out so far. And in lieu of a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, the answer was in the free agency market where the Saints scored Raiders cast-off Derek Carr.

Carr is an upgrade on all the quarterbacks trotted out in the Bayou so far, from Jameis Winston, veteran Andy Dalton to Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill. But he is no Brees, who is a sure-fire choice to be inducted into the Hall of Fame one day.

To back up Carr, the Saints are bringing back Winston as the backup quarterback. Dalton has since signed with the division rival Carolina Panthers.

The Saints picked up star running back Jamaal Williams and doubled down on tight end Jowan Jennings and wide receiver Michael Thomas. Thomas is a bit of a head-scratcher considering he hasn’t played a full season since forever. Last season, Thomas played three games and put up 171 yards on 16 receptions and three touchdowns. He missed the entire 2021 season due to injury.

2. Panthers +250

  • Key acquisitions: WR Adam Thielen (Vikings), QB Andy Dalton (Saints), RB Miles Sanders (Eagles), TE Hayden Hurst (Bengals), DT Deshawn Williams (Broncos), S Vonn Bell (Bengals), G Justin McCray (Texans), DE Shy Tuttle (Saints), DT Deshawn Williams (Broncos), No. 1 pick in the draft (Bears, via trade), WR D.J. Clark
  • Key re-signings: C Bradley Bozeman
  • Key losses: QB P.J. Walker (Bears), QB Sam Darnold (49ers), RB D’Onta Foreman (Bears), WR D.J. Moore (Bears, via trade), DB Myles Hartsfield (49ers).

New head coach Frank Reich, formerly of the Indianapolis Colts, is cleaning up shop and laying the foundation for a new era in Carolina. Trading for the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft with the Chicago Bears has allowed him to do a very thorough clean-up indeed..

The first thing that went out the window is the quarterback carousel, signaling the Panthers’ intention to select a potential franchise quarterback in next month’s draft. Sam Darnold has signed with the San Francisco 49ers while P.J. Walker has gone to the Bears. In their stead, the Panthers have signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton for his experience, leadership and mentorship.

The Panthers picked up Minnesota Vikings cast-off Adam Thielen. The 33-year-old may have seen his best days, but he’s still an elite-level player that will be inspiring to the young up-and-comers. They also picked up running back Miles Sanders from the Eagles to replace the departing D’Onta Foreman, and added solid veterans to their defense such as guard Justin McCray and safety Vonn Bell.

3. Falcons +375

  • Key acquisitions: QB Taylor Heinicke (Commanders), TE Jonnu Smith (Patriots, via trade), S Jessie Bates III (Bengals), DT David Onyemata (Saints), LB Kaden Elliss (Saints) WR Mack Hollins (Raiders), CB Mack Hughes (Lions),
  • Key re-signings: G Chris Lindstrom, LB Lorenzo Carter, T Kaleb McGary, P Bradley Pinion. OT Germain Ifedi, CB Cornell Armstrong, FB Keith Smith.
  • Key losses: QB Marcus Mariota (Eagles)

The rebuilding Falcons are going into year two of the post-Matt Ryan era none the wiser about who their starting quarterback is going to be. The Marcus Mariota experiment lasted one year as the former No. 2 overall draft pick signed with the Eagles this offseason. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke joins Atlanta via free agency and he’s likely to compete with rookie quarterback Desmond Ridder for the starting role. Other offensive additions include tight end Jonnu Smith from the New England Patriots via a trade and wide receiver Mike Hollins from the Las Vegas Raiders.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Falcons have been busier in free agency, splashing out for safety Jessie Bates and signing defensive tackle David Onyemata to shore up the defense. They aso managed to bring back linebacker Lorenzo Carter and pick up linebacker Kaden Elliss from the Saints, who follows new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen in his move from New Orleans to Atlanta.

4. Buccaneers +450

  • Key acquisitions: QB Baker Mayfield (Rams), RB Chase Edmonds (Broncos), DT Greg Gaines (Rams).
  • Key re-signings: CB Jamel Dean, LB Lavonte David, DE Anthony Nelson, G Nick Leverett.
  • Key losses: QB Tom Brady (retirement), DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches (Giants), G Shaq Mason (Texans), RB Leonard Fournette, TE Cameron Brate

With Tom Brady retiring (again), the Buccaneers must be bracing themselves for a tough slog. Well, that’s if their low-key moves in free agency are anything to go by.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield has signed a one-year deal with the Buccaneers, where he’s expected to challenge Kyle Trask for the starting job, according to NFL news insiders. The run game struggled in 2022, prompting the release of running back Leonard Fournette. To fill the void in the run game, the Buccaneers have signed Chase Edmonds from the Denver Broncos.

Importantly, head coach Todd Bowles was able to keep prized free agents cornerback Jamel Dean and linebacker Lavonte David within Tampa Bay’s circle.

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