The additions of Tom Brady and Gronk in Tampa have stolen all the headlines in the NFC South, but there were many other major moves that will have a profound effect on their respective teams trajectories. Here is an overview of all of those moves and how I see them affecting each team’s future.
* = 2020 Draft Selection
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Todd Gurley (RB), Dante Fowler (EDGE), Hayden Hurst (TE), Charles Harris (DE), Laquon Treadwell (WR), AJ Terrell* (CB), Marlon Davidson* (DT), Matt Hennessey* (IOL), Mykal Walker* (LB)
DRAFT GRADE: C
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: With Austin Hooper going to Cleveland in FA, Atlanta traded their 2nd and 5th round picks in exchange for the Ravens’ ultra-athletic TE Hayden Hurst and a 4th round pick. The former #25 overall pick in 2018 has struggled to live up to the high expectations, as his overall target percentage and value in Baltimore took a hit with the emergence of rookie Mark Andrews, but he has another shot here with ATL. Look for him to take full advantage and establish himself as a top option for Matt Ryan right away. I see him as a possible upgrade over Hooper, specifically in terms of YAC.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Devonta Freeman (RB), Vic Beasley (EDGE), Desmond Trufant (CB), De’Vondre Campbell (LB), Adrian Clayborn (DE), Justin Hardy (WR)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: The RB position has never been more expendable, and Devonta Freeman was no exception. His price tag did not justify his stark decline in production, and Atlanta saved 3.5M in cap space with his release.
FUTURE FORECAST: The NFC South just got a lot better with the arrival of Tom Brady, which means the climb back to prominence for the Falcons’ newly revamped roster becomes even more difficult. In 2020, they will be relying on many new faces to make immediate impacts at key positions, mostly on defense. In particular, their #16 overall selection AJ Terrell will be tested early and often, as he is CB1 with Desmond Trufant’s departure. However, this was one of my least favorite picks of the first round, as the value did not match up with the player. He has great size and length, but his tape did not dictate a first round grade, as he was my CB6. Unless Dan Quinn is able to work his magic quickly, I expect him to struggle mightily as their CB1. In addition to Terrell, Atlanta will be counting on Dante Fowler Jr. to continue his ascension as a possible star pass rusher, as well as needing stars Deion Jones and Keanu Neal to stay healthy after spending 2019 on IR. On the offensive side, Gurley stands out as a crucial addition, but he has proven undependable due to his recurring knee injury. Overall, in the face of two HOF QBs, the Falcons are going to need almost all of their ‘question marks’ answered in order to make significant noise in the South for 2020, and I lack confidence in that happening with an abbreviated offseason.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 5-11 (UNDER 7.5)
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Teddy Bridgewater (QB), Robby Anderson (WR), Russell Okung (OT), Tahir Whitehead (LB), Justin Burris (S), Derrick Brown* (DT), Yetur Gross-Matos* (DE), Jeremy Chinn* (S), Troy Pride Jr.* (CB)
DRAFT GRADE: B
FOG FAVORITE ADDITIONS: Aside from an entirely new coaching staff, their smartest acquisition of the offseason was signing Teddy Bridgewater to a 3 year, $63M deal. I like this fit a lot because Teddy gives this offense a sense of stability and consistency that they have clearly lacked since CMC was drafted. While he is not the flashiest of QBs, Bridgewater has continued to show his knack for winning games by limiting turnovers and distributing the ball accurately and strategically. On the defensive side, Rhule landed a raw, physical safety with plus size and a potential to be a thumper/enforcer type for their backend. Jeremy Chinn dropped further than most thought he would, possibly due to competition concerns, but was a great value pick for Rhule with the last pick of the second round.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Luke Kuechly (LB), Cam Newton (QB), Kyle Allen (QB), Gerald McCoy (DT), Dontari Poe (DT), Trai Turner (G), Greg Olsen (TE), Eric Reid (S)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Going from Cam Newton to Teddy Bridgewater may not sound like an upgrade, but Cam’s injuries have caused his efficiency as a passer to decline dramatically. Towards the end of his time in Carolina, his arm strength and accuracy became noticeably dissatisfying. It was time for a change, and Teddy gives their offense a much more stable distributor to utilize their versatile weaponry through the air. In addition to his obvious decline on the field, Cam’s release saved the team $19M in cap space.
FUTURE FORECAST: Similar to Atlanta, Carolina will need their plethora of new additions to make Day 1 impacts in order to compete in their division. They added a new starting QB and star WR on offense in FA, and followed those up by selecting four potential starters on defense in the draft. While the Matt Rhule era has barely begun, his early success will be judged off of his ability to integrate all of these new pieces into a collective unit. Offensively, I see a lot of potential with Bridgewater’s added consistency, and they have surrounded him with the necessary weapons to comfortably distribute. However, they will need a year to get fully acclimated with one another. On defense, their rookies will be counted on to improve one of the worst units in the league last season, a unit that saw their defensive captain retire at season’s end. All in all, while they added a ton of new talent in 2020, they had a lot of holes to fill. I see their future dependent on how quick Matt Rhule can turn their young talent into production, and I view that as more than a one year process. Expect the defense to struggle early while the brand new offense begins to find its footing under Rhule, but the future is bright in Carolina.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 4-12 (UNDER 5.5)
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Emmanuel Sanders (WR), Malcom Jenkins (FS), Jameis Winston (QB), Ty Montgomery (RB), Cesar Ruiz* (C), Zack Baun* (OLB), Adam Trautman* (TE), Tommy Stevens* (QB), Marquez Callaway (WR-UDFA), Joe Bachie (LB-UDFA)
DRAFT GRADE: B
FOG FAVORITE ADDITIONS: Emmanuel Sanders and Malcom Jenkins are big time veterans looking to be the missing piece in the puzzle for NO to take the next step and win the NFC in 2020, and I love both fits. Sanders is an elite route runner that will feast in the slot alongside Michael Thomas, and Malcom Jenkins provides a consistent veteran presence that the Saints clearly lacked in their backend during their past two postseason runs. On the bench, the ultra-talented but inconsistent Jameis Winston represents the possible successor to Drew Brees. I love this move, as I see Winston as a low-risk, high-reward addition to an already stacked QB room. The hope is that the combination of Brees and Sean Payton’s offensive prowess will have a profound effect on Jameis’ ability to make decisions on the field. In the draft, they addressed a major need at OLB by ending the slide of Zack Baun in the 3rd round. He will have an immediate impact as a hybrid pass rusher/off ball defender.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Larry Warford (G), Eli Apple (CB), Ted Ginn (WR), Von Bell (S), Josh Hill (TE)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: It is not as if Ted Ginn was ineffective in his role for NO, but in comparison to Emmanuel Sanders, it is night and day. In fact, they aren’t even in the same realm of ability – this was a great move to help push the Saints passing game to the next level of prolific.
FUTURE FORECAST: Year after year, the Saints dominate their opponents in the regular season, but find a way to choke when it matters most. Last year was a product of a flawless game by Kirk Cousins, and frankly, a loss of the coin toss in OT. Even so, they are back as Super Bowl contenders once again for 2020, as they added key veterans to positions that lacked during 2019 – Sanders will thrive in the slot with Mike Thomas on the outside, while Malcom Jenkins will be an immediate leader of a DB unit that is loaded with talent. Though Brady is now in the division, I see the Saints as the more complete team. In fact, following FA, they only had one major need remaining and addressed it with 3rd round pick Zack Baun. Time is running out for Brees to cement his legacy with another SB victory, and it seems like they are well overdue. I like their chances to win the NFC in 2020, and possibly wave goodbye to their HOF QB in the process.
2020 RECORD PREDICTION: 13-3 (OVER 10.5)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: Tom Brady (QB), Rob Gronkowski (TE), Tristan Wirfs* (OT), Antoine Winfield Jr.* (S), Ke’Shawn Vaughn* (RB), Tyler Johnson* (WR)
DRAFT GRADE: B+
FOG FAVORITE ADDITION: The Bucs went into this offseason with a plethora of questions, and boy did they find answers. Once Brady came into the fold, it was clear to me that they needed to add to their backend in order to elevate their defense to a championship level. In the draft, GM Jason Licht did so in the second round by selecting Antoine Winfield Jr., an old school safety out of Minnesota. His versatility and playmaking was on display every Saturday in Minneapolis, and the son of former Vikings star Antoine Winfield will look to follow in his father’s footsteps by establishing himself as a hard hitting, physical enforcer in TB. As a senior, he showed his knack for finding the ball, recording 7 interceptions as the captain of the defense. This pick is absolutely perfect for TB, as it provides them with a much needed identity in their secondary in the midst of all of the hype surrounding Brady’s offense. In addition to Winfield, Licht selected another Gopher in slot receiver Tyler Johnson in the sixth round, an impressive route runner who is reminiscent of past playmakers who have thrived in Brady’s offense. I envision him quickly outplaying his 6th round selection.
NOTABLE SUBTRACTIONS: Jameis Winston (QB), Demar Dotson (OT), Breshad Perriman (WR), Carl Nassib (DE)
SMARTEST SUBTRACTION: Jameis Winston is the obvious choice here, as he threw a league high 30 interceptions in 2019, with seven of those resulting in TDs for the other team. Those seven pick-sixes set a single season NFL record, and those mistakes were too much to overcome for the former #1 overall selection.
FUTURE FORECAST: Suddenly, the future is now for Tampa Bay with their recent additions of Tom Brady and Gronk. In addition to the former Patriot legends, the Bucs drafted the massive Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs at #14 and an exciting thumper for their backend in Winfield at #45. If these two are able to step in and make day one impacts, this team will be even scarier than it already looks. That being said, with the hype higher than ever, it will be very interesting to see how fast the new additions will be able to come together. With Brady at the helm, I expect nothing but excellence, however the current expectations for Year 1 are too high. This will be Brady’s first season in the NFL without Belichick, and I think that will take some getting used to for him, especially with an abbreviated offseason due to COVID-19. Aside from integration, my main concern for this team is their secondary, especially in a division with very high powered passing units. Therefore, I envision a lot of shootouts for this team, something Brady was not used to under Belichick. However, Brady won’t complain in the face of these shootouts in 2020, as he will enjoy passing to possibly the best receiving corps of his career. Overall, it is tough to see a team this talented not enjoy immediate success, but being wary of how difficult it is to gain chemistry in the NFL for 2020, I still view New Orleans as the clear favorite to win the division.
2020 RECORD PROJECTION: 12-4 (OVER 10)