Where Does the Rest of the NFC South Stand?

As the reigning conference champions, the Falcons have become the team to beat in the NFC South. As members of a highly competitive division, Atlanta's most familiar foes are getting set to reload this spring, preparing to do what they can to return to the playoffs in 2017.

With the help of NFL.com's Lance Zierlein, ESPN's Bill Barnwell and Spotrac.com's free agency tracker, here's a look at where Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay stand, and what they could do in the months ahead.

Carolina Panthers

2016 Record: 6-10
NFL.com Mock Draft Choice (No. 8): Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Top Offseason Needs: OT, DE, RB
5 Pending Free Agents: Charles Johnson, Mike Remmers, Ted Ginn Jr., Kawann Short, Mario Addison

Analysis: "Hard to believe Carolina wouldn't sprint this card up to the commissioner if Allen were still there. He can play defensive end in a base defense and rush from inside on sub-packages. … It seems like Carolina has needed an offensive tackle for at least the last three years and that is the case again. Upgrading the pass rush off the edge could be an early priority. Jonathan Stewart's cap hit and history of injuries could put RB in play." – Zierlein

Top Move They Should Make: Franchise Short. "Dave Gettleman finally has the cap room to really operate in the free-agent market, but the first thing he needs to do is retain his best pass-rusher. Short has turned into a devastating interior disruptor, leading the team in quarterback knockdowns each of the past two seasons while recording a total of 17 sacks. That's good for third among interior linemen after Geno Atkins and Aaron Donald." – Barnwell

New Orleans Saints

2016 Record: 7-9
NFL.com Mock Draft Choice (No. 11): Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Top Offseason Needs: CB, S, LB
5 Pending Free Agents: Paul Fruger, Nick Fairley, Tim Hightower, Tim Lelito, Jahri Evans
Analysis: "The Saints, who have had issues at the cornerback spot for quite a while, should be making the position a priority in this year's draft. With good length and tremendous ball skills, Jones could step in and start immediately. … In a division full of talented quarterbacks, finding help at both cornerback and safety is a must. Jairus Byrd has been a disappointment and will likely find competition waiting for him next year at safety. The Saints need depth at linebacker." – Zierlein

Top Move They Should Make: Pick Up WR Brandin Cooks' fifth-year option. "Things haven't always been smooth for Cooks and the Saints, given Cooks' public frustration with not getting the ball at times last season, but he's too effective of a player to let leave for free. The Saints will happily pick up his fifth-year option for 2018 in advance of contract negotiations." – Barnwell

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2016 Record: 9-7
Top Offseason Needs: DL, S, WR
NFL.com Mock Draft Choice (No. 19): Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
5 Pending Free Agents: Vincent Jackson, Christopher Conte, Bradley McDougald, William Gholston, Joe Hawley

Analysis: "McDowell has Pro Bowl potential, but there is some bust potential as well. He often played on the nose at MSU but can play anywhere along the defensive line. … Tampa Bay will need to find a high-impact player along the defensive line who can create mayhem on a regular basis. Safety is a need and could get early round consideration. While Mike Evans is a stud, Tampa Bay has to find another threat for Jameis Winston."  – Zierlein

Top Move They Should Make: Pick up the fifth-year option on Evans. "This is about as easy as it gets." – Barnwell

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