Now that the offseason is in full swing, front offices of all 32 NFL teams have begun to assess priorities for the coming months. What areas should each team address? This sounds like a job for Maurice Jones-Drew. The NFL.com analyst andformer All-Pro running back tries his hand at general manager and identifies three areas each team should tackle this offseason. Today, MJD examines the NFC South:
Bringing back Dirk Koetter was a smart move because of the familiarity that already exists between the offensive coordinator and Matt Ryan from Koetter's first stint as Atlanta's OC (2012-2014). The Falcons have a solid foundation with plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball -- hopefully, they can avoid major injury this time around -- but there are several positions to focus on this offseason.
1) Tag or re-sign Grady Jarrett. This Dan Quinn-led defense needs pass rushers for it to reach maximum potential, and bringing back Jarrett, who's due to become a free agent next month, would be huge. He's really stepped up as an interior pass rusher, but he'll still need some more help up front. (UPDATE: The Falcons reported Monday that they have placed the franchise tag on Jarrett.)
2) Bring competition/depth to O-line. Given the talent the Falcons have at the skill positions, a stout offensive line is a must to get the most out of this attack. A few of their guards are set to hit the market -- Tuesday's re-signing of swing O-lineman Ty Sambrailo helps with depth -- but bringing back Andy Levitre might not be a bad idea. He has been a leader for this unit.
3) Add depth at running back.Devonta Freeman should be healthy after missing all but two games last season, but Tevin Coleman is set to become a free agent. If Coleman does indeed depart, bringing in a versatile back to complement Freeman and Ito Smith should be a priority to get this run game back to the form it displayed during the 2016 season, when it ranked fifth in the league.
Ron Rivera is a smart man. That's why he and I are on the same page. The Panthers' head coach said last week that the team's offseason agenda is all about protecting Cam Newton, who's coming off shoulder surgery. Ding, ding, ding! That means getting more help for him on the line and at the skill positions. Carolina needs to revamp the defense, as well.
1) Upgrade the O-line. Carolina has several O-linemen that are impending free agents, including OT Daryl Williams, and C Ryan Kalil is retiring. Finding Kalil's replacement must be a priority, and the Panthers need better depth across the line. I'd look to the free-agent market and to the draft for some young guys who can come in and compete right away. With a QB like Newton, you can never have too many good players to help keep him upright.
2) Build consistent pass rush. With Julius Peppers' retirement, Carolina should be looking for pass rushers in the draft and/or free agency to give this unit some burst. Possible fits for the Panthers' 4-3 scheme include Brandon Graham, whose contract with the Eagles is due to expire.
3) Get playmakers for back end of the defense. Re-signing Eric Reid was a start, but the Panthers still need the type of playmaker in the secondary that they've missed since Josh Norman left for Washington after the team's Super Bowl run in 2015. Without some upgrades in the back end, the group will continue to struggle against the powerhouse offenses in the rest of the division.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
The Saints have been so close to advancing to the Super Bowl of late, and there aren't many glaring voids within the roster. The biggest question is whether they can keep these pieces together for another run at the title, and in that vein, re-signing Mark Ingram should be a top priority. He's a huge part of Sean Payton's explosive offense and a key guy in the locker room. The Saints have to figure out how to keep him in the building.
1) Add depth and veteran leadership to secondary.Marshon Lattimore is a building block in the back end, but the secondary needs more consistent playmakers. Marcus Williams and Eli Apple have shown flashes, but the Saints need to be able to count on them for big plays in big games.
2) Get Drew Brees a tight end. With Benjamin Watson retiring, the Saints must replace him for the league's all-time leading passer. Adding another dynamic pass catcher in the draft will only make this potent offense more difficult for defenses to figure out.
3) Develop a young QB. With a small amount of cap space (about $8.85 million, per OverTheCap.com) the Saints would have to get creative if they were to lock down impending free agent Teddy Bridgewater. If they can't figure out a way to keep him in New Orleans, the best option would be to find a young, promising prospect in this year's draft to develop behind Brees.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
The biggest question for the Bucs within the next calendar year is whether or not Jameis Winston is a long-term answer. With Bruce Arians in the building, Winston has the resources to develop, but he must make some adjustments and become a smarter player.
1) Add an explosive running back. A dynamic player in the backfield would take a ton of pressure off Winston, forcing the defense into more favorable coverages for him to dissect. Free-agent-to-be Le'Veon Bell would be a great fit for this offense.
2) Sprinkle front seven with talent. The defense, which ranked 31st in the league in points allowed (29 per game), is short on talent from front to back, and DE Vinny Curry was released and LB Kwon Alexander is due to hit the market. The Bucs can start by getting new coordinator Todd Bowles some talented front-seven defenders in free agency and should continue to build in that area via the draft.
3) Fix the secondary. CB Brent Grimes is ticketed for free agency and this unit needs some major upgrades, even though the team has spent six draft picks on back-end players in the past three drafts. There are some potential free agents who could provide a boost, bringing some leadership and discipline into the room, and this year's draft class includes a number of DBs who could help immediately.