2021 Offseason Team Needs: Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers, Saints

     

Thanks for checking out our 2021 Offseason Team Needs previews. Consider this a primer for the goals each team has to accomplish this offseason and the resources they have to work with. 

A couple of notes. Salary cap projections are from Over The Cap and based on a cap of $180.5 million. That number could ultimately be different depending on what the NFL and NFLPA figure out before free agency. Compensatory picks are also from OTC’s projections, which are historically the most accurate in the industry. Their methodology is outlined here.

With that, let’s get into it:

Buccaneers

Projected Cap Space: $20,776,683

Draft Picks: 8

  • 1st (No. 32)
  • 2nd (No. 64)
  • 3rd (No. 96)
  • 4th (No. 128)
  • 5th (No. 160)
  • 5th (comp)
  • 7th (No. 216, from PIT)
  • 7th (No. 224)

Notable Free Agents: WR Chris Godwin, OLB Shaquil Barrett, LB Lavonte David, DT Ndamukong Suh, WR Antonio Brown, TE Rob Gronkowski, RB Leonard Fournette, OT Joe Haeg, DT Steve McLendon, DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches, CB Ross Cockrell, K Ryan Succop, QB Blaine Gabbert, QB Ryan Griffin, LB Kevin Minter

  1. Defensive Line

Top to bottom, the Buccaneers have one of the best rosters in football right now. There aren’t a lot of true needs but the overarching focus for Tampa Bay will be on keeping strengths strong. They’ll have to put in a little more work to do that on the defensive line, as in addition to the three pending free agents they have in Suh, McLendon and Nunez-Roches, DL William Gholston stands out as a potential cap casualty. Whether it’s by retaining players like Suh or making a few choice additions, the Buccaneers have some work to do here to be able to be the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots in 2003 and 2004. 

  1. Pass-catching running back

One glaring deficiency as the Buccaneers offense found its sea legs down the stretch in 2020 was the lack of a pass-catching back. Ronald Jones has improved in many areas but he continues to be a liability as a receiver. Fournette was better, but not by much. Adding a dynamic, matchup-beating receiving back for Tom Brady to lean on like he used to lean on James White would do a lot for the offense’s efficiency. In fact, White happens to be available this offseason and happens to hail from the state of Florida. 

  1. Outside Linebacker

The Buccaneers have a number of pending free agents who would create holes to fill on the roster if they departed. But the good news is most of them should be back. The one that could get a little hairy is Barrett, who is looking for a well-deserved payday after playing essentially back-to-back prove-it deals. The second was a franchise tag that paid him nearly $16 million for 2020 but Barrett will be looking to, in his own words, “break the bank” with some real long-term financial security, and it’s at least a possibility the Buccaneers can’t make that happen. If so, pass rusher would become an even bigger need given Jason Pierre-Paul is 32 and the pipeline behind him and Barrett is unproven at best. 

Falcons

Projected Cap Space: -$31,668,889

Draft Picks: 9

  • 1st (No. 4)
  • 2nd (No. 35)
  • 3rd (No. 68)
  • 4th (No. 99)
  • 5th (No. 132)
  • 5th (comp)
  • 5th (comp)
  • 6th (No. 163)
  • 6th (comp)

Notable Free Agents: S Keanu Neal, CB Darqueze Dennard, C Alex Mack, RB Todd Gurley, DB Damontae Kazee, DE Charles Harris, DE Steven Means, CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson, OL John Wetzel, RB Brian Hill, TE Luke Stocker, WR Laquon Treadwell

  1. Defensive End

Finding a consistent and reliable pass rush has been a quest of the Falcons for several years now. There have been a lot of disappointments along the way, from former top pick Vic Beasley to big 2020 free-agent signing Dante Fowler. The Falcons will give Fowler another chance to be productive in 2021 but they need to find another starter and more depth. You can never have too many quality pass rushers and the Falcons aren’t even sure if they have one right now. 

  1. Safety

Two of Atlanta’s starting safeties in 2020 in Neal and Kazee are poised to hit the market and there’s a good chance both are gone. Neal will find other schemes that fit him better and Kazee is coming off a torn Achilles. And if the Falcons make S Ricardo Allen a cap casualty, which is a real possibility even though he’s a team captain, that would wipe the slate almost completely clean for the team at the position and obviously necessitate a major investment to replace what’s been lost. 

  1. Running Back

It’s fair to question how important it is to prioritize running backs in the overall picture of team building given the ease at which they’re often found. However, the Falcons are poised to be so bare at the position that they have no choice but to go looking for another top starter in either the draft or free agency. The success new HC Arthur Smith had with Derrick Henry in Tennessee could make Atlanta a top destination for free-agent backs, while the top of the second and third rounds are potential sweet spots to find a long-term option. 

Panthers

Projected Cap Space: $20,096,242

  • Includes rough estimate for the reported release of veteran DT Kawaan Short

Draft Picks: 8

  • 1st (No. 8)
  • 2nd (No. 39)
  • 3rd (No. 73)
  • 4th (No. 104)
  • 5th (No. 135)
  • 5th (comp)
  • 6th (No. 169)
  • 6th (comp)

Notable Free Agents: RT Taylor Moton, WR Curtis Samuel, LT Russell Okung, G John Miller, LB Tahir Whitehead, RB Mike Davis, CB Rasul Douglas, OL Tyler Larsen, G Michael Schofield, G Chris Reed, TE Chris Manhertz, LS Jeffrey Jansen, WR Pharoh Cooper, CB Corn Elder

  1. Quarterback

We’ll take our cue from Panthers owner David Tepper and HC Matt Rhule who haven’t really been shy about highlighting how they want to get more out of the quarterback position than what they got from Teddy Bridgewater in 2020. Carolina pushed hard for Matthew Stafford and are expected to be similarly aggressive the rest of the offseason, whether it’s pursuing a trade for Deshaun Watson or a possible move up in the draft for a quarterback. 

  1. Offensive Line

It appears the Panthers will use the franchise tag on Moton to lock in their starting right tackle for at least another season. That should give them time to try and hammer out a long-term deal, but Carolina has plenty of other issues to address on the line, namely left tackle. There’s former second-round OT Greg Little but he has yet to really inspire confidence in the new coaching staff. The Panthers could also use another starting guard if they don’t re-sign Miller. 

  1. Defensive Tackle

There were a lot of issues for the Panthers on defense last year even if they overperformed the low expectations many had for them. Realistically the unit still needs a lot of work even after spending an entire draft on defense last year but if Carolina had to prioritize one position, it should be defensive tackle. Kawann Short is a likely cap casualty and the Panthers could beef up the interior with some playmaking ability that will help the entire defense perform better as a whole. It’ll take attention off the edge rushers, stop linemen from reaching the linebackers on the second level and prevent the secondary from covering for longer. 

Saints

Projected Cap Space: -$69,010,461

Draft Picks: 5*

  • 1st (No. 28)
  • 2nd (No. 60)
  • 3rd (comp)
  • 3rd (comp)
  • 4th (No. 124)

*forfeited 7th-round pick, No. 220, due to COVID-19 violations

Notable Free Agents: DE Trey Hendrickson, S Marcus Williams, QB Jameis Winston, DT Sheldon Rankins, CB P.J. Williams, LB Alex Anzalone, S D.J. Swearinger, RB Ty Montgomery, OL James Hurst

  1. Defensive End

Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Saints in 2021 is the quarterback position, but for better or worse the Saints appear to have a plan for that. On the surface, the Saints appear to be fine at defensive end with Cameron Jordan and former first-rounder Marcus Davenport, but there are signs that their edge rush could be a looming weakness. Davenport battled injuries all of last season and had just 1.5 sacks. In three years since New Orleans made a major trade up for him, Davenport has a career-high of just 6.5 sacks and has yet to really break out. Age might also be creeping up on Jordan as he dipped below double-digit sacks in 2020, and Hendrickson might be hard for the Saints to re-sign. This position might need some attention to ensure it remains a strength. 

  1. Secondary

The Saints’ cap situation for 2021 is well-documented, and while there’s a real path for New Orleans to get its books back in the black and even make some moves in free agency, there will be some real costs the team has to pay in terms of choices with personnel. It likely will be hard for the Saints to re-sign Williams as he’ll be one of the better safeties on the market and command more money than they can offer. The Saints also might have to say goodbye to CB Janoris Jenkins as a cap casualty. Both would leave behind major starting roles that would need to be filled. 

  1. Linebacker

New Orleans can look inside the division and see the impact two speedy, playmaking linebackers can have on a defense. Before the Buccaneers’ duo of David and Devin White, the Panthers had Luke Kuechly and either Thomas Davis or Shaq Thompson. Demario Davis continues to be an underrated playmaker at the age of 32 but the Saints need at least one more big-time playmaker at off-ball linebacker. 

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