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Falcons Offseason Grade: First or Worst in NFC South?

Did the Falcons do enough this offseason to elevate their position within the division?

There was a point in the 2022 offseason where the Atlanta Falcons seemed poised to compete for the NFC South title, as the reigning division champions, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, lost two key pieces to retirement in head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Tom Brady.

The New Orleans Saints endured a similar fate, with head coach Sean Payton retiring after 15 seasons on the sideline. However, as the offseason progressed, Brady un-retired, and the Buccaneers look to have a stranglehold on the division.

Have the Falcons done enough to put themselves in contention for the division crown? Here's our NFC South offseason grades ...

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Key Additions: Shaq Mason, OG (trade); Luke Goedeke, OG (draft); Russell Gage, WR (FA), Cade Otton, TE (draft); Rachaad White, RB (draft); Logan Hall, DE (draft); Akiem Hicks, DE (FA), Keanu Neal, S (FA); Logan Ryan, S (FA)

Key Losses: Ali Marpet, OG (retired); Alex Cappa, OG (FA), Rob Gronkowski, TE (retired); Ndamukong Suh, DE (FA); Jason Pierre-Paul, OLB (FA); Jordan Whitehead, S (FA)

Offseason Grade: B+. Losing Marpet and Cappa up front is going to hurt, and Gronkowski was a bigger part of the blocking scheme than many realize. However, the acquisition of Mason came at pennies on the dollar while Aaron Stinnie is a Super Bowl-winning lineman himself, making the new guys not as big a dropoff as one might see at first glance. Getting Gage to sign after seeing him twice per year with the Falcons will give the Buccaneers offense a new weapon for quarterback Tom Brady. On defense, Joe Tryon-Shoyinka's rise to starter without JPP on the roster should be an improvement and could help cover some of the penetration issues the defense had in 2021. There are some new faces this time around, and a tough schedule won't do the Bucs any favors. But come mid-January, this team is going to be well equipped to compete for its third Lombardi.

Biggest question: Who will be the second back on the field behind Fournette, and how versatile will that person make the Gronkowski-less Bucs offense? The favorite will be rookie Rachaad White while Ke'Shawn Vaughn has more years of NFL experience, and veteran Giovanni Bernard will be in the mix, too.

Fantasy fact: Fournette saw a near 30% touch share and averaged a career-high 18.3 fantasy points in his 14 games last season. He figures to get a big workload again in 2021, as the Buccaneers let Jones walk as a free agent. Even with Giovani Bernard and rookie Rachaad White in the mix, Lombardi Lenny will be a top-30 overall pick. — Michael Fabiano

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Key additions:
Dennis Allen, Head Coach (Promotion), Jarvis Landry, WR (UFA); Tyrann Mathieu, S (UFA); Trevor Penning, T (draft); Chris Olave, WR (draft); Alontae Taylor, S (draft); D'Marco Jackson, LB (draft); Devine Ozigbo, RB (UFA); Taco Charlton, DE (UFA); Lucas Krull, TE (UDFA); Smoke Monday, S (UDFA)

Key losses: Sean Payton, Head Coach (retired); Marcus Williams, S (UFA); Terron Armstead, T (UFA); Malcolm Jenkins, S (retired); Will Clapp, OL (UFA); Lil'Jordan Humphrey, WR (UFA); Kenny Stills, WR (UFA); Ty Montgomery, RB (UFA); Trevor Siemian, QB (UFA); Kwon Alexander, LB (UFA)

Offseason grade: A-. New Orleans' front office had a salary cap deficit of approximately $77M going into the offseason. GM Mickey Loomis and VP of Football Operations Khai Harley were able to restructure and revise contracts, whittle down the cap numbers to a manageable -$20M and begin to sign players. The Saints flirted with quarterback Deshaun Watson before signing starting QB Jameis Winston to a two-year, $14 million deal. Perhaps the best two offseason acquisitions were to add Landry and Mathieu. Both have roots in the New Orleans area. Loomis made shrewd moves by retaining most of the coaching staff and promoting Allen as head coach and Pete Carmichael as primary play caller.

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Biggest question: Two critical questions persist with the Saints: How will the Saints respond to Allen without the veteran coaching leadership of Sean Payton? And how will Jameis Winston rebound from his ACL injury?

Fantasy fact: Alvin Kamara is coming off a 2021 season that saw him produce career lows in yards per carry average (3.9), targets (67), catches (47), receiving yards (439) and fantasy points (234.7). However, he did average 20.2 fantasy points in five full games played with Jameis Winston. That includes four games with 18-plus and one with 30-plus. — Fabiano

ATLANTA FALCONS

Key additions: Marcus Mariota, QB (FA); Desmond Ridder, QB (draft); Damien Williams, RB (FA); Drake London, WR (draft); Bryan Edwards, WR (trade), Anthony Firkser, TE (FA); Germain Ifedi, OT (FA); Lorenzo Carter, OLB (FA); Arnold Ebiketie, OLB (draft); Rashaan Evans, ILB (FA); Casey Hayward, CB (FA); Dean Marlowe, S (FA)

Key losses: Matt Ryan, QB (trade); Mike Davis, RB (released); Calvin Ridley, WR (suspension); Russell Gage, WR (FA); Foye Oluokun, LB (FA); Dante Fowler, OLB (cut); Duron Harmon, S (FA)

Offseason Grade: B-. The Falcons swung and missed on Deshaun Watson, leading to a chain reaction of moves that eventually forced Atlanta to fully begin its rebuild a year early. Their Watson pursuit led to trading Ryan after 14 seasons under center. The team also transformed its front seven after releasing Fowler and letting Oluokun, last year’s tackle leader, walk in free agency. As a team, the Falcons got worse, but sometimes you need to take a step back to move forward.

Biggest question: Does the team count on Mariota, who hasn’t started a game in two years, or will the team hand the ball to third-round rookie Ridder? While Mariota is considered the favorite, Ridder has impressed early and he has turned the Falcons offseason into a quarterback battle for the first time in more than 20 years. — Jeremy Brener

Fantasy fact: Cordarrelle Patterson, a wide receiver converted to running back, scored 234.6 fantasy points last season. Believe it or not, that’s the fifth-most points recorded in a single season by a Falcons running back since 2000. Jamal Anderson leads the team in fantasy points at the position when he scored 337.5 points during the 1998 season. — Fabiano

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Key additions: RB D’Onta Foreman, RB (FA); Rashard Higgins, WR (FA); Ikem Ekwonu, OT (draft); Bradley Bozeman, C (FA); Austin Corbett, G (FA); Matt Ioannidis, DT (FA); Damien Wilson, LB (FA); Corey Littleton, LB (FA); Xavier Woods, S (FA); Matt Corral, QB (draft)

Key losses: DaQuan Jones, DT (FA); Haason Reddick, LB (FA); Jermaine Carter Jr., LB (FA); Stephon Gilmore, CB (FA).

Offseason grade: B+. The Panthers aren’t necessarily ready to compete for a playoff spot but they did improve the roster significantly this offseason. Losing both Reddick and Gilmore in free agency hurts, but they were able to completely revamp the offensive line by drafting Ikem Ekwonu sixth and by signing Bozeman and Corbett in free agency. Carolina has the depth at corner to withstand the loss of Gilmore with Jaycee Horn, Donte Jackson, CJ Henderson, Keith Taylor Jr. and others. However, they failed to find a replacement for Reddick, which could mean Brian Burns’ path to the quarterback won’t be as easy this fall.

Biggest question: Who will be the starting quarterback in Week 1? Carolina was very close to making a draft-night trade for Baker Mayfield but instead traded back into the third round to select Corral out of Ole Miss. Coming from an RPO-centric offense, Corral has a lot to learn and isn’t ready to push Sam Darnold for the starting job. GM Scott Fitterer has made it clear he wants competition in the quarterback room which is why the Panthers are still being linked to Mayfield and even Jimmy Garoppolo. — Schuyler Callihan

Fantasy fact: Christian McCaffrey ranks third in fantasy points per game average (21.8) at his position in the last two years. Unfortunately, he’s also played just 10 games during that time due to injuries. CMC’s high level of statistical success will keep him in the first round, even in the top five overall, but there might not be a bigger risk-reward pick. — Fabiano