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Fourth in a series of analyses of team needs, by division.
Quarterbacks: Matt Ryan endured some tough times in his second season, but he's still the face of the franchise. Atlanta re-signed QB Chris Redman to be Ryan's backup.
Running backs: It's not a top need, but Atlanta could look to provide Michael Turner with a new complementary back. RBs Jerious Norwood and Jason Snelling are both restricted free agents.
Receivers: The Falcons are expecting to get a boost from the return of Harry Douglas, who missed last season after tearing his ACL in camp. Atlanta could use some depth at the position, but it's not a high priority.
Offensive line: The right side of the O-line, ORG Harvey Dahl and ORT Tyson Clabo, will hit restricted free agency, and both are expected back. The O-line should return pretty much intact.
Defensive line: Atlanta is in need of a pass-rushing end to pair with John Abraham, as Jamaal Anderson has failed to develop in that role. The team could use an early draft pick on an edge rusher.
Linebackers: There's room for improvement at outside 'backer, but it's behind cornerback and defensive end on the Falcons' list of priorities. MLB Curtis Lofton is developing into a leader and top-line performer.
Defensive backs: The Falcons have a young group of corners, and they found a clear-cut No. 1 who can challenge the opposition's top receiver in Dunta Robinson in free agency. The addition of Robinson made corner much less of a need for Atlanta, but the team could still spend a pick on one.
Special teams: Atlanta's placekicking situation is unsettled as of this writing and the team could consider signing a free agent. P Michael Koenen is a restricted free agent, but he'll likely re-sign.
Summary: GM Thomas Dimitroff has said he'll take a more balanced approach in this year's draft, with defensive end at the top of his wish list.
Quarterbacks: The Panthers will head into the 2010 season with Matt Moore as the clear starter, barring another free-agent signing or trade. Carolina released QB Jake Delhomme. The team likely will add a veteran player to back up Moore.
Running backs: They added depth behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart by drafting Mike Goodson last year, so this position won't be a priority. Carolina also drafted its fullback of the future, Tony Fiammetta, in 2009, and cut Brad Hoover in March.
Receivers: This has long been a position of need for the Panthers. Muhsin Muhammad is an unrestricted free agent. He turns 37 in May and Carolina might be ready to move on. Finding a talented complement for Steve Smith could boost the passing game.
Offensive line: Carolina could use more depth throughout the offensive line, particularly at guard and center. ORG Keydrick Vincent is an unrestricted free agent and most likely will be allowed to depart.
Defensive line: This position is one they will need to address this offseason. While the Panthers re-signed DE Tyler Brayton, Peppers has moved on to Chicago. Depth at tackle is not a pressing issue.
Linebackers: Weak-side 'backer would become a need if RFA Thomas Davis, who is recovering from a torn ACL departed, but he likely will be re-signed.
Defensive backs: The Panthers aren't expected to alter their collection of corners and safeties much this offseason. Starting CB Richard Marshall is a restricted free agent, but he has been tendered.
Special teams: Changes aren't anticipated at punter or kicker, but Carolina's special-teams units were pretty poor last season, so some new blood on coverage units and at returner would be no surprise.
Summary: Figuring what to do at defensive end in the post-Peppers era will consume the Panthers in the coming months, but finding a threat to pair with Steve Smith at receiver is major need as well.
New Orleans Saints
Quarterbacks: Drew Brees will be the Saints' QB for many years to come, assuming he gets that contract extension, but Sean Payton could look for a younger backup after going with UFA Mark Brunell, now 39, for the past few years.
Running backs: RB Mike Bell was tendered, but the Eagles signed him away. New Orleans is happy with Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Lynell Hamilton at running back. Heath Evans should return as New Orleans' fullback after suffering a torn ACL early last season.
Receivers: Lance Moore is a restricted free agent, but he likely will return. Few changes are expected at wide receiver. It's not too early to find the eventual replacement for TE Jeremy Shockey, though.
Offensive line: New Orleans could try to trade one of its offensive tackles, but OG Jahri Evans should be back after being tendered at the highest level.
Defensive line: The Saints filled a void at defensive end by signing ex-Bear Alex Brown, but that won't preclude them from spending a pick on a young pass rusher.
Linebackers: With veteran Scott Fujita leaving for Cleveland free agency, the Saints are in the market for a new strong-side linebacker.
Defensive backs: The Saints are pretty well set at corner, but not at safety. The Saints would like to have UFA FS Darren Sharper back on a short-term deal, but he'll test the market. RFA SS Roman Harper has been tendered and is a key piece on defense.
Special teams: After several changes at kicker and punter over the past few seasons, the Saints are content with the young tandem of Garrett Hartley and Thomas Morstead. They have to make a decision about their top kick returner, Courtney Roby, who is a restricted free agent.
Summary: The defending champions have major holes at strong-side linebacker and free safety. Getting younger and faster on defense will be the Saints' focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Quarterbacks: The Bucs have their QB of the future in 2009 first-round pick Josh Freeman. It doesn't look as though veteran backup Byron Leftwich will be released.
Running backs: The backfield trio of Earnest Graham, Derrick Ward and Cadillac Williams should return. Williams is a restricted free agent, but Tampa Bay will be able to retain him with a relatively modest tender.
Receivers: Receiver is a major need for the Bucs. UFA Antonio Bryant has signed with the Bengals and the Bucs will have to find a new No. 1 receiver.
Offensive line: Left guard could be a position the Bucs target early in the draft, as last year's starter, Jeremy Zuttah, fits better as a backup swing player. The team doesn't know whether it can count on a return to form by Arron Sears after he sat out all of last season. RFA OLT Donald Penn likely will be retained after being tendered at the highest level.
Defensive line: This is a spot the Bucs figure to address early in the draft. They need help at tackle and end, but tackle appears to be the bigger need. One of the team's better pass rushers last season, Jimmy Wilkerson, is an unrestricted free agent.
Linebackers: The Bucs want to lock up RFA MLB Barrett Ruud, and they likely will do so by issuing him a one-year tender. Tampa Bay also could look for insurance behind WLB Geno Hayes, who is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Defensive backs: Tampa Bay could use an upgrade over Sabby Piscitelli at strong safety. Former Eagle Sean Jones signed a two-year deal and will push Piscitelli for the starting job. SS Jermaine Phillips (UFA) will probably not be back after suffering season-ending injuries each of the past two years.
Special teams: RS Clifton Smith has energized the kickoff- and punt-return units. He's an exclusive-rights free agent and will be back in 2010. The Bucs may address their punting situation after releasing Josh Bidwell and Dirk Johnson. They still have P Sam Paulescu on the roster.
Summary: GM Mark Dominik has said the Bucs won't be major players in free agency, so expect the team to look for help on the defensive line early in the draft while also adding weapons for Freeman.
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