Around the NFC South: Free agency so far

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The first wave of free agency is in the books, and the Panthers and the rest of the NFC South have done what they can to ride the wave without wiping out.

You can't ever count on smooth sailing in the uncertain waters of March. The Panthers lost All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and former first-round defensive tackle Star Lotulelei in free agency – both of which were likely – but they more than compensated on defense with the signing of two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Dontari Poe and the decision by future Hall of Fame defensive end Julius Peppers to play another season.

On offense, Carolina added speedy wideout Torrey Smith by trading cornerback Daryl Worley to the Eagles, but the planned answer at corner fell through when Bashaud Breeland failed his physical.

On special teams, the Panthers brought back kicker Graham Gano – who paced the NFL in field goal and touchback percentage last season – just before he became a free agent. Every NFC South team in fact made a special teams moves of note, with the Falcons doing the same with ageless kicker Matt Bryant and the Saints the same with punter/kickoff specialist Thomas Morestead. The Buccaneers continued to look for special teams solutions by signing kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

Here's a look at moves made and not made so far by the Panthers' fellow NFC South teams on offense and defense.

SAINTS: The reigning champs in the first NFC division to produce three playoff teams in a decade have been pretty busy. First and foremost, they re-signed quarterback Drew Brees, considered a foregone conclusion by most but still a serious bit of business they needed to get out of the way. They did lose backup Chase Daniel to the Bears in free agency but answered by signing former Texans quarterback Tom Savage. New Orleans could still use some offensive line depth with fill-in starter Senio Kelemete off to the Texans.

The defense will get stronger on paper with the pending free agent signings of cornerback Patrick Robinson from the Super Bowl champion Eagles and linebacker Demario Davis previously with the Jets. The Saints have opted to not bring back still-unsigned safety Kenny Vaccaro, but they signed safety Kurt Coleman after Carolina released him.

FALCONS: Atlanta's ascending defense might have taken a step back with the losses of Poe to the Panthers and defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the Patriots. They also lost one component of their speed-filled offense with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel off to the Bears.

The Falcons did improve their offensive line by signing solid free agent guard Brandon Fusco previously of the 49ers, but in the vein of Brees, their offensive focus lies with working to cement something significant at quarterback. Matt Ryan has just one year remaining on his current deal, so he could possibly soon be the game's highest-paid player.

BUCCANEERS: The lone division team not to reach the playoffs couldn't protect quarterback Jameis Winston and couldn't get its run game going in 2017, but Tampa took a positive step by agreeing to terms that will make former Ravens standout Ryan Jensen the league's highest-paid center. Enigmatic running back Doug Martin signed with the Raiders, but the need there was glaring even before that.

A pass rush that ranked last in the NFL in sacks last season upgraded as well with the pending addition of former Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry. The Bucs also signed former Eagles defensive tackle Beau Allen, subbing that Philly tandem in for defensive end Robert Ayers and defensive tackle Chris Baker (both released).

It's way early in the process, with free agency just entering the second wave – often a bargain-hunting phase for teams – and with the draft still more than a month away. But in simple terms so far, the Saints look solid on both sides in their pursuit of another division crown; the Falcons have improved on the interior of their offensive line but could use some reinforcements along the defensive line; and the Buccaneers made a significant move along each side of the line but need to improve more across the board.

View photos of defensive tackle Dontarie Poe arriving at Bank of America Stadium.

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