With the 2020 NFL Draft in the books, the attention has now turned to the offseason. As coaches slowly return to their offices, every team will have a storyline that could make or break their new season. In our last article, we looked at the top 2020 storylines for the NFC West, with our attention now turning to the NFC South.
Much like their counterparts in the AFC, the NFC South could either shine or sizzle. The Buccaneers “won” free agency by bringing in Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, hoping to get back to the postseason for the first time in a decade. Atlanta’s offseason could leave them either looking like contenders or pretenders, as could an offseason of turn around for the Panthers franchise. Meanwhile, the Saints went all-in to win now with Drew Brees, but is the playoff curse going to crash the party this year as well?
In our new series for PFN, Lead NFL writer Cole Thompson and NFL columnist Tommy Call III will be breaking down each team’s top offseason storyline. Here’s what fans of the NFC West should be looking towards in the coming months.
Top storylines in the NFC South
Contending early or starting fresh
Despite offensive talents like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Calvin Ridley spread out across Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Atlanta Falcons are coming off back-to-back lackluster campaigns. Since the departure of Kyle Shanahan to the San Francisco 49ers, the Falcons have been on a downhill trajectory.
Atlanta lost seven of their first eight games to open the 2019 season. After the bye week, Atlanta played inspired football, winning six of the remaining eight games. With wins against New Orleans and San Francisco, Atlanta showed they still have what it takes to hang with top-NFC opponents.
In 2020, the Falcons need to do what they can to bottle up that same energy they demonstrated down the stretch when the 2020 season starts. If Atlanta starts slow again, Dan Quinn and the rest of the Falcons organization may have to switch gears. Instead of looking at how to get back to the Super Bowl, the Falcons could tap into the race for Trevor Lawrence..
The early transition for college coaches
It’s easy to etch the Carolina Panthers on the shortlist for teams interested in Lawrence, but until the draft order is decided, eyes will be glued to the sidelines in Bank of America stadium. After elevating two college programs at Temple and Baylor, Matt Rhule will head the rebuilding process in Carolina.
Along with Rhule, LSU’s Joe Brady will take charge of Carolina’s offense with new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Can the pairing of Rhule and Brady bring the same level of success they had individually as college coaches?
Beyond a thrilling season in Baton Rouge, Brady’s experience calling the shots is thin. There’s no doubt the Pathers took a risk on bringing in a 30-year-old coach, but if he can bottle up even a fraction of what he produced as the Tigers passing game coordinator, Carolina is in for rich rewards.
Although it’s doubtful, the Panthers will compete for a playoff spot in 2020-21, with Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Shaq Thomas, and a bevy of new defensive players, Carolina has an intriguing set of tools. This season will tell if Rhule can build a foundation for the future with those tools.
New Orleans Saints
Defeating the playoff curse
It feels like for the last 10 seasons, the New Orleans Saints have been the same team — high-level coach, elite quarterback and wide receiver duo mixed with a solid rushing attack. Nevertheless, since winning the Super Bowl in 2009, the Saints have made only one other trip to the NFC Championship game. Now in 2020, all signs pointing towards the career of Brees winding down. 2020-21 could be now or never for Sean Payton and the Saints.
With an already loaded offense behind Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, Jared Cook, the Saints’ frenetic offense got another burst over the offseason with the addition of the always crafty Emmanuel Sanders. Bolstering their offensive line in the draft, the Saints have little excuse when it comes to making a deep postseason run.
With so much talent, the Saints’ biggest opponent could be themselves. With Brees already signed as a future NBC broadcaster, New Orleans may have to manage chatter of a potential farewell tour for their Hall of Fame-bound quarterback. With Brees aging and Kamara heading towards the end of his rookie contract, could the Saints be in line for their own version of “The Last Dance?”
Living up to the offseason hype
Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, Michael Jordan to the Washington Wizards and Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; three similarly odd-looking visuals, but with Brady, there may be more than meets the eye. After spending his entire career with Bill Belichick, the six-time champion will venture into a new world.
While the director is different, Brady’s supporting cast has a familiar face. After one season of retirement, Rob Gronkowski is back alongside Brady in Tampa Bay. While this duo was once feared throughout the NFL, what will Brady to Gronkowski look like in 2020? That will be for Bruce Arians to decide.
Arians will likely adjust his offense around Brady, but there’s no secret how much the storied quarterback whisperer loves throwing it deep. Arians fit alongside Brady will be something to follow as the Buccaneers preparations for the season begin. Despite concerns about his age, Brady’s job is as simple as getting the football to his playmakers.
On top of Gronkowski, the Buccaneers have an elite tandem at wide receivers. While there could be hiccups, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin should make Brady’s transition to Tampa Bay easy.
Cole Thompson and Tommy Call III serve as the Lead NFL writer and NFL columnist, respectively, for Pro Football Network. Follow them on Twitter at @MrColeThompson, @Tommy_III, and @PFN365 for all up to date NFL content.