The NFC South is currently going through a seismic shift in its history. The division is coming off a 2022 season where it was considered to be the worst division in the entire NFL, as evidenced by each club finishing below .500, including the NFC South champion Buccaneers. Now, we're embarking into an offseason where all four teams may find themselves with new quarterbacks.
The Buccaneers, of course, will certainly have a different signal-caller after Tom Brady decided to retire after the team's 8-9 campaign and a loss to the Cowboys on Super Wild Card Weekend.
Carolina rolled through several quarterbacks after the Baker Mayfield experiment did not work out and saw the in-season firing of Matt Rhule. The club finished 7-10 and has since hired former Colts head coach Frank Reich to lead them into 2023 and beyond. In New Orleans, the Saints also rode the quarterback carousel en route to a 7-10 season under first-year head coach Dennis Allen. Meanwhile, the Falcons looked like they might be a surprise team in the NFL out of the gate with a 3-3 record through six weeks, but then lost seven of their final 11 games to finish 7-10.
It's been Tampa Bay that has ruled this division with Brady at the helm over the last two seasons, but now the NFC South is as wide open as it's been in some time. This offseason will likely prove to be a pivotal period for one team to separate from the rest. As they begin crafting their rosters for 2023, here's an outlook on each team's offseason as well as some of the needs each team must address.
Note: Salary cap figures are rounded and courtesy of Spotrac.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Needs: QB, CB, EDGE, OL, RB
Projected cap space: $-57.08M (32nd)
Quarterback is, of course, the glaring need in Tampa Bay with Brady retiring. Before they embark on addressing that or any need on their roster, however, they'll need to create quite a bit of cap space just to get them compliant. Once they do that, they can begin considering their options for filling the QB spot. If they feel like they are a capable quarterback away from continuing to contend for the playoffs, a veteran free agent like Jimmy Garoppolo could be an option. If they take a hard look at themselves and see that a total rebuild post-Brady is necessary, it could be worth seeing what you have in Kyle Trask or taking a stab at a quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Jamel Dean are the two notable free agents. Specifically, the secondary could become an even greater need for Tampa Bay if Dean inks a deal with another club on the open market. Meanwhile, the offensive line will see a revamp as well. The team already made the cap-clearing move as they plan to release tackle Donovan Smith before the start of the new league year. Guard Shaq Mason could also become a cap casualty as the team could clear roughly $5 million by releasing him. The team also released veteran running back Leonard Fournette.
The Buccaneers are in a pretty rough spot that could lead to some hard decisions. They are in an unenviable cap situation and have just three draft selections within the top 150.
CBS draft projections: The Buccaneers own the No. 19 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. In his latest mock draft, CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson has Tampa Bay adding Georgia tackle Broderick Jones with that selection. CBS Sports' Chris Trapasso has them taking Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright, Josh Edwards mocks South Carolina corner Cam Smith coming off the board here, and Kyle Stackpole has has the Bucs taking Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders.
Needs: QB, LB, IOL, WR, DT, S
Projected cap space: $-4.1M (22rd)
The Panthers have already made a significant move this offseason by hiring Frank Reich to be their next head coach. With that task out of the way, Reich and GM Scott Fitterer can start addressing the team's biggest need, which is quarterback. Carolina is in a position where it can go down a multitude of routes to answer that need. The Panthers possess the No. 9 pick in the draft, and could conceivably have one of the top signal-callers either fall to them at that spot or use that asset to trade into position to take one inside the top five. Or the team could bring aboard a veteran. Given Reich's history in his previous spot in Indy and what the Panthers have done over the last few seasons with Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield, however, there is the question of how eager either side would be to go down the veteran path. That's especially true now with Derek Carr off to New Olreans.
Elsewhere on the roster, Carolina could use more pass-catching weapons to complement D.J. Moore. A wide receiver who can stretch the field similar to what they had with Robbie Anderson -- who now goes by Chosen Anderson -- is something this unit lacked. Also, a true red zone threat at the tight end position would be ideal, especially if they bring in a young quarterback. In the backfield, retaining D'Onta Foreman in free agency could be a cost-effective way to still have a sturdy rushing attack in 2023.
Arguably the Panthers most important free agent is starting center Bradley Bozeman. If he departs, the interior of the offensive line becomes another glaring issue.
Defensively, Carolina could be playing in more of a 3-4 with new defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. If the Panthers move safety Jeremy Chinn closer to the line of scrimmage amid that change, that creates more need for someone on the back end of the secondary. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis is also an underrated piece that the Panthers should look to retain.
CBS draft projections: The Panthers have the No. 9 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson has Carolina addressing the quarterback position by taking Kentucky quarterback Will Levis at that spot. CBS Sports' Chris Trappasso and Josh Edwards also have Carolina taking Levis, but trading up to No. 3 and No. 6 to do so in their respective mocks. Mewanwile, CBS Sports' Kyle Stackpole has the Panthers selecting Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson.
New Orleans Saints
Needs: IOL, CB, WR, S, DL
Projected cap space: $-17.25 (28)
The big move for New Orleans this offseason has already come, with the team signing veteran quarterback Derek Carr to a reported four-year contract. That solidifies the quarterback position entering free agency and currently gives them the best signal-caller in the division.
Elsewhere, defensive end Marcus Davenport is New Orleans' high-profile free agent, and because of the club's rough salary cap position, he may be priced out of returning to the Saints. That, along with Cameron Jordan set to be 34 by the start of next season, creates a massive need for the Saints to make a drastic improvement to the defensive line.
With Carr now slotted in under center, New Olreans does need to add some pass-catching weapons. Chris Olave proved to be a great piece in New Orleans' passing game, but the Saints need more than just the second-year receiver. Michael Thomas, who was limited to three games last season, is unreliable at the moment, so continuing to add youth via the draft could be an option at No. 29.
CBS draft projections: New Orleans has the No. 29 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson has them addressing the receiver position by taking USC's Jordan Addision at that spot. Meanwhile, Chris Trapasso has the Saints taking Texas running back Bijan Robinson. Both Josh Edwards and Kyle Stackpole have New Orleans beinging in an edge rusher with Edwards leaning with Iowa's Lukas Van Ness, while Stackpole has them taking Georgia's Nolan Smith
Needs: QB, EDGE, IOL, WR, DB
Projected cap space: $66.7 (2nd)
The Falcons need a lot of help. Fortunately for them, however, they are in the best position out of anyone in the NFC South to make noticeable improvements this offseason. They are armed with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft and have the second-most amount of cap space available.
Speaking of quarterbacks in the NFC South, this is Atlanta's clear top need. Because of the assets the Falcons have, they have a number of options to fill it. They could either use the No. 8 overall to take a quarterback or use that pick to try and trade for an established veteran. The swing-for-the-fences moves would be to see what happens in Chicago or Baltimore. The Bears possess the No. 1 overall pick and, if they find themselves wanting to take a quarterback, that makes Justin Fields available. Meanwhile, the longer Lamar Jackson and the Ravens go without executing their long-awaited extension, the bigger the possibility of a trade becomes.
While those are the pie-in-the-sky trades, the draft could be a more realistic option. However, this team does have plenty of needs elsewhere on the roster, including the defensive line, particularly along the edge. Atlanta didn't have a feared pass rush whatsoever in 2022, so addressing that with a blue-chip edge defender at No. 8 wouldn't be a bad way to go. The Falcons also had one of the worst run defenses in the league, so beefing up the interior is also a priority. The secondary is headlined by A.J. Terrell, Casey Hayward and Richie Grant, but the unit does need more depth as well.
At the skill positions, wide receiver is a need opposite of Drake London. Olamide Zaccheaus is slated to be a free agent, but he is more of a No. 3 or No. 4 receiver in an ideal offense. While Tyler Allgeier will likely be the starting running back in 2023, adding another back is a worthwhile endeavor. The interior of the offensive line is another area to focus on with left guard Elijah Wilkinson -- who started in all nine of his games played in 2022 -- looking at free agency.
CBS draft projections: The Falcons own the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. CBS Sports NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson has the club taking Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez at that spot, while Josh Edwards puts Clemson defensive lineman Myles Murphy in Atlanta. As for Chris Trapasso and Kyle Stackpole, they each have the Falcons trading this pick. Trappasso has the Falcons trading with the Ravens for Lamar Jackson. Meanwhile, Stackpole has the Falcons shipping No. 8 to Chicago for quarterback Justin Fields.