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A look at quarterback situations across the NFC South

Desmond Ridder

INDIANAPOLIS – It's quite the open race for any of the four starting quarterback positions in the NFC South.

On a macro level, the division itself is practically wide open. It was already a close race to the finish in 2022, and Tampa Bay clinched with a losing 8-9 record ahead of three 7-10 finishes from Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans.

About the only thing certain for the Panthers, Falcons, Buccaneers, or Saints at the quarterback spot in 2023 is that there isn't much certainty at all. There are options on the table, including decisions to be made between the free-agent pool, incoming draft class, and signal-callers already on the roster. There's a legitimate shot the NFC South will see four different starting quarterbacks than it did in Week 1 of the 2022 season.

Tuesday at the combine, Atlanta general manager Terry Fontenot, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, and Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles shared takes on their quarterback situations. Carolina head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer are expected to field questions from the media Wednesday.

As we prepare for rosters to shift and change across the league, let's check around the division to evaluate where each team stands at quarterback.

On a macro level, the division itself is practically wide open. It was already a close race to the finish in 2022, and Tampa Bay clinched with a losing 8-9 record ahead of three 7-10 finishes from Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans.

About the only thing certain for the Panthers, Falcons, Buccaneers, or Saints at the quarterback spot in 2023 is that there isn't much certainty at all. There are options on the table, including decisions to be made between the free-agent pool, incoming draft class, and signal-callers already on the roster. There's a legitimate shot the NFC South will see four different starting quarterbacks than it did in Week 1 of the 2022 season.

Tuesday at the combine, Atlanta general manager Terry Fontenot, Tampa Bay general manager Jason Licht, and Tampa Bay head coach Todd Bowles shared takes on their quarterback situations. Carolina head coach Frank Reich and general manager Scott Fitterer are expected to field questions from the media Wednesday.

As we prepare for rosters to shift and change across the league, let's check around the division to evaluate where each team stands at quarterback.

Matt Corral

Carolina

The Panthers moved in a carousel through Baker Mayfield's struggles and the emergence of game-manager PJ Walker last season. They saw a the groundwork of a redemption arc for Sam Darnold toward the end of the year, but they lack a long-term plan moving forward.

Mayfield's long gone from Carolina after he was waived and picked up by the Rams, and Darnold is set to become an unrestricted free agent. Walker will be a restricted free agent, meaning the Panthers can tender a contract and match any offer made by another team to him.

All this means the Panthers head into 2023 with just two quarterbacks solidified on Reich's first roster here – Matt Corral, last year's third-round pick who didn't get a chance in his rookie year after sustaining a preseason Lisfranc injury, and former practice squader Jacob Eason, who was signed in the offseason.

So the offensive-minded Reich and his primarily new offensive staff, including coordinator Thomas Brown, have room to grow the position. They pick ninth in this year's draft behind quarterback-needy teams like the Texans, Colts, and Raiders, and there's a wide number of reads on the top four prospects this year – Alabama's Bryce Young, Ohio State's C.J. Stroud, Kentucky's Will Levis, and Florida's Anthony Richardson.

There's also always the option to take the veteran route, and the Panthers brass is scheduled to take time in Indianapolis and meet with former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. Carr was released by Las Vegas this month, and he has previously met with the Jets and Saints.

Terry Fontenot

Atlanta

The Falcons released Marcus Mariota just before Fontenot approached the lectern in Indianapolis. They freed up salary cap space with the move after an underwhelming 13-game stint from Mariota in Atlanta last season.

Fontenot expressed faith in Desmond Ridder, the Falcons' third-round selection in 2022 that played four games last season. Ridder led Atlanta to a 2-2 record as a starter behind a 63.5 completion percentage, completing 75-of-115 passes for 708 yards and two touchdowns.

"We've been really clear with how we feel about Desmond Ridder, and what he's done to this point in his career, his makeup, and just the way he handled every role he's been in," Fontenot said. "He dealt with adversity. He got off the mat and kept fighting. Desmond's done some good things, and we know he's going to continue to improve in the offseason."

But Fontenot said he would keep the door wide open for adding to the quarterback room – and there isn't an option he won't leave on the table.

"We're going to add to the position – whether it's free agency, the draft, or both," Fontenot said. "We've talked about the quarterback position and how we want to make sure we continue to add to that position. We want to keep bringing players in. So really excited about Desmond, yet we're going to add to the position."

Fontenot said he could see Atlanta bringing in a veteran, and he also didn't rule out using the Falcons' first-round draft pick on a signal-caller. They pick just before the Panthers at eighth overall this season.

"It can be both; we want to bring in good players," Fontenot said. "So we could bring in a veteran. We could bring in a guy with experience. We could bring in a guy with no experience. We want to add to the room."

Kyle Trask

Tampa Bay

The Tom Brady era ended with his latest retirement in February, leaving the Buccaneers with plenty of questions to answer under new offensive coordinator Dave Canales.

Licht sounded quite confident in 2021 second-round quarterback selection Kyle Trask, the former Florida quarterback who hasn't started a game in Tampa Bay while sitting behind Brady.

"We're very excited about Kyle, very excited about him getting the opportunity to be the starter. Would be very comfortable with that," Licht said. "Excited – used that word already – but really am for him to get a chance to be with the starters in an offseason, starters in training camp, starters in preseason, which he's never done.

"He was a successful quarterback in the SEC; I mean, wildly successful. We took him in the second round for a reason. We didn't take him in the second round just to be a third-string quarterback. Now, it has yet to be seen what he turns out to be, but we're confident that it's going to be very good."

While his language about Trask sounded sure, Licht also insisted there would be a competition for his role. At the moment, Trask is the only quarterback on the Bucs' roster, but the starting role isn't going to be handed to him, Licht said.

"You have to give everybody competition," Licht said. "He's the only quarterback on our roster right now. I'm just saying if he were the starter, or if he was the only option that we had right now, we'd be very, very excited about going forward with him. He's going to get the opportunity – no matter who we bring in – to be the starter."

Bowles said that while the Bucs are aware of their salary cap situation – they're projected to be $56 million over the cap, the worst situation in the league per OverTheCap – they have long- and short-term plans that include adding more quarterbacks for Trask to compete with.

Tampa Bay will pick 19th in this year's draft.

"It's going to be (a) competition at every spot," Bowles said. "That's going to be every year. As long as we've been coaching, there's going to be competition. But we'll look at everybody.

"We'll try to take the best players available. We'll see who can help us and try to help us, but Kyle will compete. He's the only one on the roster right now. He works hard. He works at it in the offseason, and we want to see what he can do. I think everybody's coming into it with a clean slate with a new coordinator."

Jameis Winston

New Orleans

Jameis Winston started the year as the Saints' starter, but he didn't make it long before injuries piled up and set Andy Dalton up with the job for the rest of the season.

Dalton signed a one-year contract for 2022, while Winston still has a season left on the two-year deal he signed with the Saints before last season.

New Orleans is already looking at the free agent market, connecting with Carr before the combine (as did the New York Jets). Representatives from the Saints and Jets are reported to have planned follow-up meetings with the free-agent quarterback throughout the week in Indianapolis, along with the Panthers.

The Saints hold the 29th selection in this year's draft. Initially the 49ers' spot, the pick had been traded to Miami and Denver before landing with New Orleans in the trade for new Broncos head coach Sean Payton.

View throwback photos of tackle Ikem Ekwonu at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.

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