At a time when it is an absolute struggle to be a sports fan, NFL free agency has been a breath of fresh air to distract sports fans everywhere from the fact of no games.
For one, the period has been interesting since many high-profile players have been on the move.
Early in the league year, former Houston Texans wide receiver and 2019-20 First Team All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins was traded to the Arizona Cardinals. Many questioned this after Houston only received a second-round pick and backup running back David Johnson for an undisputed top-three receiver in the league.
While the move came as a surprise, the league’s big action comes from the NFC South, where the Atlanta Falcons and the division as a whole continue making noise. Former All-Pro running back and University of Georgia alum Todd Gurley made the decision to come back home after his surprising release from the Los Angeles Rams.
“Chopping it up with Julio [Jones]. That’s why I was like, ‘I’m trying to get to the A,’” Gurley said about his big move. “Going back to Georgia. Going back home. I was waiting for it.”
Although the Falcons certainly improved with the signing of the former Georgia Bulldog, the rest of the division has also found ways to improve their rosters.
The New Orleans Saints added two veteran players at key positions in wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and safety Malcolm Jenkins. Both players provide experience for a Saints team that is desperately trying to get over the hump in the playoffs after three consecutive years of disappointment.
Sanders and Jenkins have won a combined three Super Bowls in five appearances. The reigning division champions will look to use their new weapons experience in every possible way.
Moving north to Charlotte, the Carolina Panthers shocked the NFL when they released former 2015 MVP Cam Newton and signed Teddy Bridgewater as their new starting quarterback. Bridgewater, who was 5-0 as a starter on the Saints last season, brings a fresh start for the Panthers after Newton was under center for the last eight seasons.
Easily, the most high profile signing in the division comes from the Tamba Bay Buccaneers, who secured the legendary quarterback Tom Brady. The six-time Super Bowl champion made the decision to leave New England and join a team with a multitude of weapons at his disposal. Wideouts Mike Evans and Chris Godwin were both top five in receiving yards.
Georgia State student and Atlanta native Andrew McKinney spoke on Brady’s decision and how he thinks the 42-year-old will fare in his 21st season.
“Tom Brady will definitely be a challenge to the NFC South. How he’ll adapt to his new playbook or if his age is catching up to him is yet to be seen,” McKinney said. “If he plays like he has in the past five years, he’ll be a force to reckon with for all of the NFC South teams. The Falcons will have to really study film in order to neutralize Brady’s dominance on the field.”
Three years after the Patriots’ infamous 28-3 comeback in the Super Bowl, the Falcons will get to see the man who anchored it twice a year for the next two seasons.
But will this spark fear or revenge for the franchise?
This spells trouble not only for Atlanta, which lost both games to the Bucs last season, but also for the rest of the division. Last season, Bucs starting quarterback Jamies Winston threw 30 interceptions, 18 of which came in the seven games, whereas Tampa Bay lost by just one score.
However, there is hope for Atlanta to contend with head coach Dan Quinn’s defense hoping to get back to Super Bowl form. The Falcons will have two of their defensive cornerstones back this year in linebacker Deion Jones and safety Keanu Neal after they both suffered season-ending injuries. Recently-signed defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is another key signing for the Falcons to try and revamp the defensive line after the departure of Vic Beasley.
“We’ve needed an established pass rusher for years in Atlanta, and now, we’ve brought in one of the league’s best, and he’s only 25,” Georgia State freshman and Falcons fan Brenson Phillips said.
With all of these factors laid out, it looks like the NFC South will be more competitive than it has been in the past. Every team has made moves that will make an impact on the outcome of the season, and it is very possible that three teams from the division will make it to the postseason.