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Competitive NFC South leaves top teams with holes to fill


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When the lockout is over, it could be a mad dash for talent all over the NFL. With that in mind, we examine the most important things each team must accomplish with a division-by-division breakdown. This is a look at the NFC South.

Atlanta Falcons

Solve the offensive line issues: The Falcons are the most vulnerable team in free agency when it comes to their offensive line. Both starting guards (Justin Blalock and Harvey Dahl) and the starting right tackle (Tyson Clabo) are scheduled to be free agents and their franchise quarterback -- Matt Ryan -- is a drop-back passer. Right now, guys like Andrew Johnson (a 2011 seventh-round pick from Fresno State) and Jose Valdez (a college free agent with two years of practice-squad experience) are penciled in as starters. The Falcons need two of the three starters back, or go into free agency and sign two players.

Sign a legitimate pass rusher: John Abraham is still a premiere pass rusher, but the opposite side in the Atlanta 4-3 defense needs more production considering opponents usually slide protections to Abraham. The Falcons would be wise to go after the Minnesota Vikings' Ray Edwards or even better, the Carolina Panthers' Charles Johnson. Johnson has 19 sacks in his last 18 starts. Johnson is from Georgia and would fit well in the front four. Last year, Abraham and Johnson combined for 24.5 sacks, which would make them a top defensive end tandem in the NFL.

Resolve the kicker/punter situation: Both kicker, Matt Bryant, and punter, Michael Koenen, are free agents. Bryant should be re-signed after finishing fourth in the league in scoring for non-skill position players with an impressive 90.3 percent conversion rate on field goals attempted last season. He was also 9-10 from 40 yards or better. As for Koenen, the Falcons might consider a new punter. Koenen was ranked 30th in punt average and 27th in net average. There are better choices out there like the Jacksonville Jaguars' Adam Podlesh, Philadelphia Eagles' Sav Rocca and New York Jets' Steve Weatherford. All three have better numbers than Koenen.

Notice that I posted the Falcons portion here, but you can see the Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers portions by clicking on thie following link as well:


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New Orleans Saints

Sign a linebacker: Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has a complicated scheme and little patience for those who can't perform. Right now, Jo-Lonn Dunbar and Jonathan Casillas are penciled in as starters at the weakside and strongside spots, respectively, with rookie Martez Wilson in the wings. I would like to see the Saints add a linebacker with plenty of starting experience. The Redskins' Rocky McIntosh is a free agent and played his first two seasons (2006-07) under the direction of Williams. Last year, McIntosh was in on 110 tackles and two sacks. In 2010, the Saints were 16th against the run and could use some fresh faces at linebacker.

Re-sign Harper: The Saints have one safety under contract, Malcolm Jenkins. Three safeties who played for them last year are free agents: Roman Harper, Darren Sharper and Pierson Prioleau. Harper is a solid player and, at 28 years old, young enough to invest in. Sharper is too old to commit to when free agency opens up, and Prioleau is an insurance policy. Harper might see some teams come after him and the Saints need to respond. There are some good safeties in the free-agent pool and New Orleans should not get left with a void at the position. Harper has the experience under Williams and can quarterback the secondary.

Make some important offensive line decisions: Drew Brees gets rid of the ball quickly and stays away from pressure for the most part, which helps the offensive linemen. However, with left tackle Jermon Bushrod a free agent, the Saints have some decisions to make. Bushrod has given up 14 sacks in his last 31 starts. He replaced Jammal Brown, who only gave up seven sacks in his final two seasons protecting Brees. Is it time for Charles Brown to step up after being a second-round pick in 2010? What about the aging Jonathan Stinchcomb on the right side? Cowboys tackle Doug Free would look good in a Saints uniform and could be available. Free can play on either side and that would give the team flexibility. As for the interior of the offensive line, it's possible the Saints will use some of the new-found salary cap space to extend guard Carl Nicks. Nicks has become a premier player and would surely have to be franchised in 2012, so doing a deal now might be a better idea.


if you want your team, get it yourself!

Edited by SuperSK
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