The Falcons and the reshaping of the NFC South this offseason

FLOWERY BRANCH — All of the teams in the NFC South have added a quarterback during free agency, and the Carolina Panthers made a mega-trade that will allow them to control the NFL draft.

While the Falcons signed Taylor Heinicke to back up Desmond Ridder, the Saints picked up Derek Carr from the Raiders to take over at quarterback.

The Buccaneers, who must replace quarterback Tom Brady, signed former No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, and the Panthers added Andy Dalton to serve as a placeholder for either Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud or Alabama’s Bryce Young.

The biggest and boldest move so far this offseason was Carolina trading up from No. 9 to obtain the No. 1 pick from the Chicago Bears. The Panthers will have their pick of the quarterback class. They sent 11 representatives to Columbus, Ohio, for Stroud’s workout Wednesday. They went to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for Young’s workout Thursday.

“I think in an ideal world you always want to draft the quarterback – draft, develop and then have that guy here for five, 10 years,” Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer said. “You want to have that consistency. It helps for many different reasons. The continuity of your roster, for salary-cap reasons. There’s so many benefits to drafting and developing.”

The Panthers also added some key personnel to their front office.

“I’m really excited about the staff,” Fitterer said. “We added Adrian Wilson as the vice president of player personnel. We added Brian Decker as the vice president of development and then Kevin Winston as the vice president of player engagement. So we’ve added a lot of new pieces.”

Winston was an award-winning executive with the Falcons for 15 years. He was a two-time NFL player-development award winner.

Here are the key moves that the NFC South teams have made since the start of the new league business year March 15:


In addition to landing the top pick in the draft, the Panthers added running back Miles Sanders, wide receiver Adam Theilen and safety Vonn Bell.

Sanders: He played with the Eagles for the past four seasons and helped them earn the NFC title last season, when he rushed for 1,289 yards and 11 touchdowns. He earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

Theilen: He played nine seasons with the Vikings (2014-22) and was a two-time Pro Bowl choice. He was one of the game’s top route runners and has not shown signs of slippage. He averaged more than 10 yards per catch in each season.

Bell: Started his career with the Saints (2016-19), but was with the Bengals the past three seasons. He has made 622 career tackles and 11 career fumble recoveries.

Other key Panthers signees include Dalton, center/guard Bradley Bozeman, tight end Hayden Hurst, guard Justin McCray and defensive tackles Shy Tuttle and DeShawn Williams.

“I think when I was going into free agency, you think about what it might look like, positions that might be open, this one was at the top of the list,” Dalton said.

The Panthers also re-signed defensive end Harry Anderson, who played in 11 games and made 18 tackles last season.


The second biggest move in the NFC South was made by the Saints, who signed Carr to a four-year contract after he was released by the Las Vegas Raiders. His deal reportedly is worth $150 million, with $100 million guaranteed.

Carr, 31, is a three-time Pro Bowl player who has a 63-79 record as a starter.

Carr reunites with Saints coach Dennis Allen, who was with the Raiders in 2014 when Carr was drafted in the second round. It was Allen who made the decision to start Carr as a rookie.

In addition to Carr, the Saints have added safety Johnathan Abram, defensive lineman Malcolm Roach, defensive back Lonnie Johnson Jr., offensive tackle Storm Norton, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders and running back Jamaal Williams.

The Saints are hoping that Williams will complement Alvin Kamara. Williams rushed 262 times for 1,066 yards and an NFL-leading 17 touchdowns last season for the Lions.


The short-lived but highly productive Tom Brady era is over in Tampa Bay.

The Bucs signed Mayfield and have former second-round pick Kyle Trask on the roster.

Mayfield, the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, wore out his welcome with the Browns and Panthers. He finished last season with Rams. He did help guide the Browns to their first playoff appearance in 18 seasons in 2020.

“With an organization like this, that has had success for a while, and in recent years as well – it was important to me to be in a place that’s stable and knows how to win, knows how to do it properly,” Mayfield told the Tampa-area media. “I’ve gotten to see different things from my journey that is not exactly how I drew it up. It’s helped along the way, especially in making a decision like this. I want to go somewhere where we can win right away, and this is that place.”

In addition to Mayfield, the Bucs added running back Chase Edmonds. He played with the Dolphins and Broncos last season.

The Bucs were able to retain outside linebackers Cam Gill and Anthony Nelson, defensive lineman Patrick O’Connor, cornerback Jamel Dean and guard Aaron Stinnie.

The Bucs, who had salary-cap issues, lost the most players. Brady left behind a Super Bowl title and a $35.1 million dead salary-cap hit.

The Bucs lost safety Mike Edwards (signed with the Chiefs), guard Shaq Mason (traded to Texans), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (signed with Titans), defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches (signed with Giants) and left tackle Donovan Smith (released).


The Falcons kept their offensive line in place by signing right guard Chris Lindstrom and right tackle Kaleb McGary to contract extensions.

The Falcons also traded for tight end Jonnu Smith. He’ll reunite with Falcons coach Arthur Smith, who was his position coach and coordinator in Tennessee. In addition to Heinicke, they added wide receiver Mack Hollins.

The Falcons then shifted their attention to the defense, where they added former second-team All-Pro safety Jessie Bates, defensive tackle David Onyemata, linebackers Kaden Elliss and Tae Davis and nickel back Mike Hughes.


– P Bradley Pinion re-signed, three years, $8.65 million

– FB Keith Smith re-signed, one year, $2.35 million ($625,000 guaranteed)

– OLB Lorenzo Carter, two years, $9 million

– LS Liam McCullough, one year, $705,000

– TE Parker Hesse, one year, $940,000

– CB Cornell Armstrong

– DT Eddie Goldman (unretired list)


– CB Isaiah Oliver (49ers)

– DL Abdullah Anderson (Commanders)

– CB Mike Ford (Browns)

– OL Chuma Edoga (Cowboys)

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