NFC South 2022 offseason needs: Bucs, Saints and Panthers all on the hunt for a quarterback

The NFC South has had no shortage of storylines during the early stages of the offseason. The Buccaneers are stepping into a new era following the retirement of Tom Brady, while New Orleans is also amid a reset in the aftermath of head coach Sean Payton stepping down. Meanwhile, both the Falcons and Panthers could look to reshape their rosters over the next few months as well. 

With the division as wide open as it’s been in years, any one of these clubs could look to make a seismic push to put themselves over the top in 2022. As the offseason is about to jump into hyperspeed over the next few weeks with the NFL Scouting Combine on deck and free agency unfolding not long after, here’s a look at the biggest needs for each team in the NFC South. 

Note: Salary cap figures courtesy of Spotrac.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Top-five needs (unranked): QB, RB, OL, CB, DL

Naturally, quarterback is going to be the biggest need for the Buccaneers following Brady’s retirement. In-house, the club has Blaine Gabbert and 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask on the roster to possibly ascend to QB1. If they don’t feel like either one is up to the task, they could look outside of the organization either via the draft, trade market or free agency. Earlier this offseason, Deshaun Watson was reportedly eyeing the Bucs as one of his possible landing spots if/when he is traded away from the Texans. Of course, other quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Jimmy Garoppolo, etc. — could also be on the market for Tampa Bay to make a Brady-like swing as well. 

Outside of quarterback, possible free agent departures could determine the biggest needs for the Bucs. Receiver Chris Godwin, center Ryan Jensen, and cornerback Carlton Davis are the heavy hitters slated to hit unrestricted free agency. The franchise tag could be utilized on one of those players to retain them for the 2022 season, but the team is facing a potential exodus. Along the defensive line, Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Steve McLendon, and Pat O’Connor are all set to hit free agency as well, which could completely reshape that unit. 

The top-three options in the backfield — Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones II, and Giovani Bernard — are also set to be free agents. 

Estimated current cap space (top 51): $6,873,038
CBS draft projections: Treylon Burks — WR (Ryan Wilson), Devonte Wyatt — DL (Chris Trapasso), Jahan Dotson — WR (Josh Edwards), Chris Olave — WR (Kyle Stackpole)

Top-five needs (unranked): QB, OT, WR, DL, S

Quarterback is a big need for this entire division and the Saints are no exception. New Orleans’ first obligation this offseason will be to get cap compliant as it is significantly over the projected salary cap. Once the Saints get that squared away, figuring out the quarterback position will be priority No. 1 for new head coach Dennis Allen. Taysom Hill, Ian Book, and Blake Bortles are all under contract for the 2022 season, while Jameis Winston is slated to hit free agency. New Orleans could look to re-sign Winston and keep him as their starter. After all, he did go 5-2 as the starter before suffering a torn ACL that ended his campaign. Even with the departure of Sean Payton, the Saints did keep most of their coaches so Winston could offer more continuity heading into 2022. 

Along the offensive line, starting left tackle Terron Armstead is set to hit free agency, so filling that hole could jump higher on the list if he leaves. The Saints could promote James Hurst to that spot or move starting right tackle Ryan Ramczyk to the left side to handle those duties if they elect to fill that need in-house. Wide receiver should also be an area of focus this offseason for New Orleans as well. While Michael Thomas is one of the best receivers in the NFL when healthy, it remains to be seen how he’ll look next year. Going after some of the big fish at the position this free agent cycle will likely be unrealistic, but finding depth on that next tier could be an avenue worth pursuing. 

Estimated current cap space (top 51): $-76,160,406
CBS draft projections: Kenny Pickett — QB (Ryan Wilson and Chris Trapasso), Matt Corral — QB (Josh Edwards and Kyle Stackpole)

Atlanta Falcons

Top-five needs (unranked): IOL, WR, DL, CB, QB 

The Falcons could look to find a quarterback of the future this offseason but will be carrying a historic cap hit on Matt Ryan in 2022 so the organization could kick that pursuit down the road a year as well. No matter what the Falcons do under center, the skill positions will be one of the biggest needs this offseason. Not only are Cordarrelle Patterson and Russell Gage slated to hit free agency, but star pass-catcher Calvin Ridley could also request a trade leaving a massive hole at receiver. 

Pass protecting along the interior of the offensive line will be another priority for Atlanta. Ryan has been sacked at least 40 times over the last four seasons and the O-line ranked 20th in the league in adjusted sack rate, according to Football Outsiders. Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons interior line 29th in the league in pass blocking in 2021. 

Estimated current cap space (top 51): $-6,590,266
CBS draft projections: David Ojabo — EDGE (Ryan Wilson), Derek Stingley Jr. — CB (Chris Trapasso), Drake London — WR (Josh Edwards), Garrett Wilson — WR (Kyle Stackpole)

Carolina Panthers

Top-five needs (unranked): QB, OT, G, C, CB

Quarterback is still a huge need for Carolina. The Sam Darnold experiment went up in flames and the Cam Newton reunion proved to be more of a sentimental boost rather than helping the on-field product. The Panthers could go in a couple of directions to try to address the position. They hold the No. 6 overall pick in the draft and could look to bring in a young signal-caller with that selection, but this isn’t the deepest draft at quarterback, so they may opt to add a more talented player at a different position. Carolina may also go down the trade route again, especially with elite quarterbacks set to be on the block. Before his sexual misconduct allegations came to light, the Panthers were one of the teams most connected to a Watson blockbuster. If that situation gets cleared up in the near future, it’ll be interesting to see if they revisit that pursuit. 

On top of finding a quarterback, the Panthers should also be looking to build an offensive line to protect him. The O-line ranked 27th in the league in adjusted sack rate and the interior was particularly weak, which could lead to Matt Rhule reshaping a bulk of the line. 

In free agency, Haason Reddick is slated to hit free agency. If they are unable to reach a long-term deal or hit him with the franchise tag, adding an edge rusher will also be bumped up the priority list. 

Estimated current cap space (top 51): $15,044,149
CBS draft projections: Kyle Hamilton — S (Ryan Wilson), Drake London — WR (Chris Trapasso), Charles Cross — OL (Josh Edwards), Malik Willis — QB (Kyle Stackpole)

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