The NFL owners and coaches are meeting this week in Orlando. After the owners meeting, typically all focus shifts to the NFL Draft and you’ll just minor back-end depth transactions over the wire until the end of April. With that in mind, it’s a good opportunity for us to take stock at what’s been going on with the Bucs’ NFC South brethren this off-season.
NFC South Recap
Of course, Tampa Bay finished in last place for the 6th time in the lst 7 years and the rest of the division went to the playoffs. Most pundits had the Bucs making a major move in the division in 2017 but Tampa Bay collapsed under expectation and perhaps a little bravado while the Saints and Panthers past then by. The move was down instead of up.
As usual, the Bucs are the most active among the division teams but have they closed the gap enough to become contenders?
The Falcons sure have had a bit of a rough go of it of late. Losing Taylor Gabriel, Dontari Poe and Adrian Clayborn are not small losses. Their only adds to this point have been a guard Brando Fusco, TE Logan Paulsen and a special teamer at corner in Justin Bethel.
At some point the slide down will begin, especially if the offense continues to underachieve under Steve Sarkisian.
Carolina has taken a few hits this off-season, losing guard Andrew Norwell, DT Star Lotuleilei and TE Ed Dickson. In addition, they released veterans RB Jonathan Stewart, DE Charles Johnson and Safety Kurt Coleman.
Meanwhile, the Panthers traded DB Daryl Worley to the Eagles for WR Torrey Smith and signed former Chief and Falcon Dontari Poe. After an odd adventure with CB Bashaud Breeland where the team signed him but he failed a physical, the Panthers added CB Ross Cockrell.
One other major move to watch is the team jettisoned offensive coordinator Mike Shula in favor of Norv Turner, whose offense doesn’t seem like a fit for Cam Newton’s skill set. In addition, defensive coordinator Steve Wilks became head coach in Arizona, meaning not only did the Panthers lose talent, but also their two primary coordinators.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints were what the Bucs were supposed to be in 2017 – the surprise team in the division. After three straight losing seasons, New Orleans stunned the division, winning it in 2017.
The Saints haven’t sat on their laurels either, grabbing former Panthers safety Kurt Coleman, LB Demario Davis and Eagles CB Patrick Robinson.
As for losses, currently New Orleans has only lost backup linebacker Jonathan Freeny, Safety Rafael Bush and backup QB Chase Daniel. However, they still have several unsigned free agents such as Saftey Kenny Vaccaro, CB Delvin Breaux and WR Willie Snead. Each player is still out there and could either be re-signed or be lost.
Of course, the Saints biggest signing was that of future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees. Brees, even at age 39 is still one of the best in the business.
Where Are the Bucs?
Yes, indeed the Bucs have won another off-season in the division with their moves. At some point, this has to pay off doesn’t it? The Bucs really need a solid draft and Jameis has to 1) be available and 2) make that next step for the Bucs to be this year’s version of the Jaguars, Rams and Saints to rise from the depths of mediocrity. It feels like they are so close but until they finally get over that hump, the doubt will continue to be there.
Are they really that much better? Stop talking about it – do it. Thankfully, Hard Knocks will ruin some other team’s season.