The NFC South didn't make big headlines in the first wave of free agency, but that doesn't mean there weren't potentially impactful moves made up and down the division.
The Saints' re-signing Drew Brees has to be the biggest move made in the NFC South -- hard to argue with bringing back a future Hall of Fame quarterback. After that there is plenty of room to debate which of the many under-the-radar signings could have the biggest impact on the division.
And that's what we asked our NFC South reporters to do. Here are their predictions for which underrated signing could become a big factor in the division this season.
Jenna Laine, Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter: Patrick Robinson, Saints CB. The Saints' bringing back Robinson could pay dividends for a secondary that has finally found its way out of the cellar of the NFL and has a bevy of bright young stars in Marshon Lattimore, Marcus Williams, Ken Crawley and Vonn Bell. Robinson has turned out to be a late-bloomer and is playing arguably with more confidence at age 30 than he ever has. Last year, he had a career-high 18 pass breakups, four passes defensed and a sack in the regular season, and a pick-six in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings. Robinson allowed just a 54.5 percent completion percentage at nickelback, second only to Chris Harris of the Denver Broncos, according to Pro Football Focus. The key here is keeping him healthy.
Vaughn McClure, Atlanta Falcons reporter: Dontari Poe, Panthers DT. The Panthers' signing of Poe might be a lot more significant than expected. Poe did his job last year in one season with the Falcons in terms of stuffing the run and eating up blocks to free linebackers to make plays. The Falcons needed someone with a little more pass-rush ability at the position, and they weren't going to pay Poe $9 million per year to be a run-stuffer. With the two-headed running back combos in Atlanta and New Orleans, it was smart for the Panthers to find someone up front to help fill the void after Star Lotulelei left for Buffalo. And new Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington, who previously coached the defensive line, is a wise young coach who will get the best out of Poe. The Panthers finished third in the league against the run last season, and Poe should help them remain among the top teams in that category.
David Newton, Carolina Panthers reporter: The Panthers not signing cornerback Bashaud Breeland because of a failed physical, negating a three-year, $24 million deal. This opened money for the Panthers to sign defensive tackle Poe to a three-year, $27 million deal and add cornerback Ross Cockrell on a two-year, $6.8 million deal. They were able to use the money set aside for Breeland to get the space-eating tackle they needed to replace Lotulelei and a potential starting cornerback to play opposite James Bradberry. Breeland, who probably could have been ready for the season, might have been a slight upgrade from Cockrell. But Poe and Cockrell allow Carolina to focus on other positions in the first round of the draft and keep this a top-10 defense.
Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints reporter: Ryan Jensen, Bucs OL. He probably shouldn't even qualify for this category because he cost the Bucs $10.5 million per year. But let's face it, anytime a team signs a center it's an "underrated" move. The NFC South appreciates the value of centers as much as any division in the NFL. The Falcons' signing of Alex Mack in 2016 helped lift them to a Super Bowl. Max Unger has become a core leader for the Saints since they acquired him in the blockbuster Jimmy Graham trade in 2015. And Ryan Kalil has been an absolute stud as a five-time Pro Bowler for the Panthers. The Buccaneers needed a tone-setting centerpiece of their own after finishing 27th in the NFL in rushing yards last year and allowing a division-high 40 sacks. And they're beefing up their line at a time when the Panthers (guard Andrew Norwell) and Saints (versatile backup Senio Kelemete) both took hits in free agency. From a Saints perspective, I'll give a runner-up nod to the re-signing of defensive end Alex Okafor at a discounted price (two years, $6.8 million). He was probably the most underrated newcomer to the division last year as an outstanding starter for 10 games before suffering a torn Achilles, and the Saints kept him away from Tampa Bay, where he took a free-agent visit.