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Tampa Bay and Atlanta are ready to rumble

The NFC South rivals signed key players. Greg Gabriel

Print This March 12, 2014, 10:37 AM EST

The NFC South is becoming one of the better divisions in the NFL. New Orleans has been the class of the division for the last eight years. Except for last year, Atlanta has been a consistent contender. In 2013, Carolina, under the leadership of Coach Ron Rivera, became a power, and Tampa Bay brought in highly regarded Lovie Smith to get them back to the top.
With Carolina and New Orleans being the leaders in the division, Tampa Bay and Atlanta needed to acquire some top players to keep up. They did that yesterday in the first day of free agency.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay has new leadership in Head Coach Lovie Smith and General Manager Jason Licht. Lovie Smith was on record saying that while Tampa Bay had some good defensive players, they didn’t necessarily have the right type of players to play his defensive scheme.
Just a short time after free agency began yesterday, Tampa struck a deal with former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson. The athletic 6’7” defensive end can do for Tampa Bay what Julius Peppers did for Smith’s Chicago Bears when he was acquired in 2010. Johnson gives the Bucs a threat off the edge that they didn’t have.
A short time after they announced the Johnson deal, the Buccaneers signed another pass rusher in former Seattle defensive tackle Clinton McDonald. The 6’2”, 300-pound tackle will give Tampa Bay a strong inside presence when he is lined up next to Gerald McCoy. McDonald had 5.5 sacks last year playing in a rotation.
Late last night, they finished a strong day by signing former Tennessee corner Alterraun Verner. Verner is a quick and athletic corner with excellent ball skills. He is a perfect fit for what the buccaneers plan to do on defense.
Tampa is looking to trade Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis. At a cost of $16 million a year, he was not producing nearly enough to worth that. Revis refused to renegotiate his contract, and by the end of business today, he will probably be gone.
Tampa still has plans on offense with Bengals' Tackle Anthony Collins and Bears' quarterback Josh McCown coming in for visits shortly. What the Bucs don’t get done in free agency, they can attack in the draft.

Atlanta Falcons

Both the offensive and defensive lines struggled last year in Atlanta. Both coaches were replaced and yesterday, new talent was brought in to strengthen what were weak areas.
Atlanta wanted to get bigger and more physical on the defensive line. With the signings of Tyson Jackson and Paul Soliai it looks as if the Falcons will be going to a predominantly 3-4 base defense. Both bring size and toughness.
Jackson at 6’4" and 300 pounds is an ideal five-technique. He was the third pick of the 2009 NFL Draft by Kansas City, and though he struggled early in his career, he came on strong in 2013 under new coach Andy Reid.
Soliai was originally a fourth-round pick by the Miami Dolphins in the 2007 Draft. At 6’4” and 340 pounds, he is an ideal nose tackle and he can be very tough to knock off the ball. He will become the anchor of the Falcons' defense.
Atlanta needed a physical run-blocking guard and found one in Jon Asamoah. Asamoah started 41 games for Kansas City the last four seasons and helped the Chiefs become one of the most dominant offenses in the NFL last year.
Yesterday, Atlanta became an improved team and these signings will give them a lot of flexibility going into the draft.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
 

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