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2011 NFL Free Agency Primer: NFC South Release Candidates

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SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Reggie Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints warms up against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on September 20 2010 in San Francisco California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 20: Reggie Bush #25 of the New Orleans Saints warms up against the San Francisco 49ers during an NFL game at Candlestick Park on September 20 2010 in San Francisco California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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With just a few more of these posts left it seems as if though there are going to be a lot of talented players added to the free agency pool when the new league year begins. In fact, there will be more players released than usual. This probably has to do with the salary cap as it will stand in the new collective bargaining agreement. Additionally, a lot of teams seem to be in a salary cap bind at this point. While, certain players just don't seem to be worth their annual salaries at this point.

This morning I am going to focus on the NFC South and what players may become available from that division once free agency begins and salary cap cuts are made. 

Atlanta Falcons

FB- Ovie Mughelli: With three starting offensive linemen and Jason Snelling free agents, the Falcons are going to have to cut some payroll. Mughelli is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL, but Atlanta could easily move Snelling, who is much more versatile, into the fullback role this season. Mughelli is due 3 million dollars and Atlanta will probably part ways with him if Snelling does re-sign.

C- Todd McClure: As mentioned above, three of Atlanta's best offensive linemen are set to be free agents. Their primary goal has to be to protect Matt Ryan, however, it is extremely unlikely they retain all three. In order to retain just two of them the Falcons need to downsize elsewhere. McClure, who has been an extremely solid center for over a decade, is set to make nearly 2 million this season. Additionally, the Falcons have Rob Bruggeman as a younger alternative.

DE- Jamaal Anderson: As Rotoworld mentions "Anderson has become more of a run stopping defensive end", which really doesn't fit into the 4-3 scheme. He only had 2 sacks in 2010 and didn't play a majority of the defensive snaps. Additionally, Anderson is set to make nearly 4 million this season. In terms of how he fits; you are looking at a player that would work great in the 3-4 scheme, and has the ability to get to the quarterback on occasion. Look for the Falcons to part ways with him, and for teams that runs to aforementioned scheme to make him a top priority; San Francisco included.


Carolina Panthers

QB- Jimmy Clausen: I know it doesn't make sense for a team to release a player as young as Clausen, but hear me out for a second. He will probably be the 3rd string quarterback for Carolina this season. They will go with Cameron Newton or a veteran. If Newton does start, they will want a vet to back him up. If not, they are not going to have the #1 overall pick be a third stringer, no matter ho ill-prepared he might be. I expect Carolina to look for and find a trade partner for Clausen. If not, there is a strong possibility he could end up being released outright.

WR- Steve Smith: Another trade candidate who wants out of Carolina. However, it might be harder than you would expect to trade the former all-pro receiver. He is 32 years old, making 7 million dollars and has had recent bouts with injuries. It has been noted that he could be had for a 3rd round pick, however, I am not sure any team would want to give that, while paying him a 7 million dollar base salary this year. If trade talks fall through, look for the Panthers to release Smith. If so, there will be a nice market for him and for some reason the New England Patriots keep popping into my mind.

CB- Chris Gamble: He is set to make nearly 6.5 million in 2011 and the Panthers are reportedly ready to let him go without of restructured contract. Gamble is a pretty solid cover corner, but is no better than #2 on a good teams depth chart. Therefore, the 6.5 million salary seems completely out of whack. If he hits the open market, a strong probability, there will be teams looking to upgrade at either their #2 corner or nickel positions. An interesting option for San Francisco if they miss out on some of the top tier corners. 

 

New Orleans Saints

RB- Reggie Bush: The former #2 overall pick is set to make 11.8 million this season, which won't happen. The Saints are looking to move on, especially after the selection of Mark Ingram in April's draft. I previously had Bush on a list of potential trade candidates, but an outright release seems more plausible at this point due to his huge 2011 salary. 

Bush is not an every down back in the NFL, that much is obvious. However, he does bring elite athletic skills to special teams and the passing game. You are looking at a player that has nearly accounted for 300 receptions in his first five seasons. He will be a hot commodity when/if he hits free agency. 

WR- Devery Henderson: He is going to be on the roster bubble if Adrian Aarington continues to improve and the Saints retain Lance Moore. Henderson is set to make 2.5 million this year, and has been an enigma of sorts for New Orleans. They will attempt to find trade partners, but that seems unrealistic at this point. His stats may be a non-factor because of the Saints pass happy offense. That said, teams looking for a deep threat will clamor for his services; including our very own San Francisco 49ers

DE- Alex Brown: He really had a down season in 2010, only compiling a couple sacks. Brown is set to make 3 million this season and the Saints drafted Cameron Jordan for a reason. I full expect New Orleans to part ways with Brown once free agency begins. You really have no idea what you are going to get from the former Florida Gator, or what position he is going to play in a given scheme. He is too small (260 pounds) to play end in a 3-4 and cannot cover well enough to play OLB in that scheme. Additionally, Brown doesn't have the consistent sack presence that you would like from a starting end in a 4-3.

That said, there will be a market for him because of his ability to get in the offensive back field. You are looking at a rotational player more than a three down player at this point.

CB- Randall Gay: Not much more than a nickel corner at this point, Gay is set to make about 3.5 million this season. Couple that with the fact that the Saints are high on Patrick Robinson as a young corner and just drafted Johnny Patrick; you have the making of a player that will be looking for a new address in 2011. In Gay, you are going to get a nickel back with pretty solid coverage and big play ability. He isn't getting any younger and only has a couple more productive seasons in him


Tampa Bay Buccaneers

RB- Earnest Graham: He is set to make about 3.2 million in 2011 when all is said and done following roster bonuses etc.. That is not what you are looking to pay a player that will be used sparingly. Unless Graham takes a pay cut you can expect Tampa Bay to let him walk. At 31 years old, he is getting a little long in the tooth, but Graham can still be a productive complementary back in the NFL. 

C- Jeff Faine: The Buccaneers have ample salary cap room, so any casualties are going to be in order to upgrade the roster; nothing less. This is why Faine fits perfectly into the equation. He is a quality center, but work ethic and salary are two determining factors that make me believe he will be released. Additionally, the Buccaneers have a nice young option in Ted Larsen at that position and can upgrade through free agency as well. 

Faine will find a spot as a starting center in the NFL if he is released. The former All-American at Notre Dame is extremely solid up the middle and can provide a lot of running room for backs. Look for a team that needs a stop gap at that position to look at Faine. Obviously, the 49ers might be one of those teams.

CB- Aqib Talib: The only reason that he is on this list is because of a pending assault with a deadly weapon trial in March. Talib was a standout performer for a much improved Tampa Bay defense last seasons, but they may not want the off the field distractions to take away from an otherwise exciting 2011 season. If Talib is released, there will be teams looking to sign him to a 1 year contract, only because he may be in prison next year. However, the gun charges may prevent him from playing this season; the NFL is seriously considering suspending him for the duration of the 2011 year.

 

Analysis: Not as many "big names' player as we saw on yesterdays list in regards to the NFC East. However, there are some nice options out there for San Francisco on it.

Two players from Atlanta stand out to me at this point. Ovie Mughelli is one of the better lead blockers in the NFL. He has a lot of what Harbaugh is looking for in a fullback. If Atlanta decides to part ways with him I can easily see San Francisco making a quick call to his agent. The other option that intrigues me from the Falcons is Jamaal Anderson. As I noted, he isn't a good fit in the 4-3 defense. However, he does seem to fit in perfectly opposite Justin Smith in the 3-4. The competition will not be too great for Anderson because he only fits into a 3-4 scheme at this point; limiting the number of teams that will be interested. 

Chris Gamble, Steve Smith and Jeff Faine are three other players that could interest San Francisco. Gamble would probably be considered a nice upgrade over what the 49ers currently have at the nickel position. It all just depends on whether or not he will get an offer to start somewhere. Steve Smith isn't the superstar that he used to be, but can still perform at a pretty high level. Additionally, he would be a nice presence for the 49ers young receiving corp. We all know San Francisco's center position is in flux right now. It is all going to depend on whether or not they retain David Baas. If not, there are ample options out there as evidenced by earlier posts in this series. Add Jeff Faine to that list, he is an extremely solid center and would work well in the 49ers lineup.

Talib on a one year deal may interest San Francisco, but do they want that distraction? Also, they might take a short look in Henderson; I just worry that his number were inflated because of the Saints offensive scheme. 

So, what do you think? Any names you would be interested in?