December 30, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora (72) and defensive tackle Linval Joseph (97) wait in the smoke-filled tunnel before the start of an NFL game between the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Osi Umenyiora Signs with Atlanta Falcons; NFC South not Getting Any Easier for the Carolina Panthers

A few days ago, I reported that Osi Umenyiora, who spent his entire career in New York with the Giants, was meeting with the Atlanta Falcons and would probably wind up signing with them.

It’s official now and Osi will be wearing the red and black uniform of the Atlanta Falcons this fall. For the Falcons’ part, they’re getting a younger, healthier version of DE John Abraham, whom the Falcons let go test the free agent waters in the offseason.

The result is more or less a wash…they lose one accomplished pass rusher and signed another to take his place. However, it isn’t the only move the Falcons have made and the entire NFC South should be an even harder division to break out ahead of the pack than last year for the Carolina Panthers.

Atlanta also let go RB Michael Turner, replacing him with former St. Louis Rams RB Steven Jackson. While Jackson has a lot more career carries than does Turner, he’s also held up better over his career. Turner was obviously past his prime, and Jackson is either there or past his as well. The difference is that Jackson is the complete back that Turner never was.

Turner was basically a one-trick pony; hand the ball off to him and let him pound the rock between the tackles. Granted, he was incredibly good at his “one trick,” but Steven Jackson is a guy who can stay on the field for all 3 downs since he can block in pass protection as well as catch the ball out of the backfield.

As a result, the Falcons will have to do fewer substitutions at the positions as they did when Michael Turner was there and thereby opponents won’t be able to get clued-in as to what play they might run, given the makeup of the Atlanta backfield on a particular play.

Jan 23, 2013; Mobile AL, USA; New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and head coach Sean Payton watch the Senior Bowl north squad practice a day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (not pictured) reinstated New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton after his season long suspension. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Also, don’t forget TE Tony Gonzalez un-retired and will be a Falcon for 2013.

The New Orleans Saints get the biggest “bounty” of all as they’ll have their highly-touted Head Coach, Sean Payton, returning and will be at the helm from now onward. Recall, he was banned from football for the entire season last year and the Saints struggled mightily – especially in the first half of the season.

That’s not going to be a problem now and the evil genius of Payton along with his All-Pro quarterback, Drew Brees, can plot and scheme on the offensive side of the ball. Expect them to start out the season with a chip on their shoulder as they intend to prove they belong atop the NFC South, Falcons be damned.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers faded toward the end of the season but still finished 7-9 along with the Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints. They have a team with a lot of youth in key positions and will undoubtedly be wiser heading into pre-season games and should grow from there.

What does this mean for the Carolina Panthers’ chances at finishing at least second in the division, or trying to win it outright?

With the salary cap restrictions and subsequent inability to grab solid free agents, other than Ted Ginn, Jr., it will be an uphill climb. As such, they were unable to upgrade the problem areas they had last year – namely RT, OG, DT, OLB, and FS. With only 5 draft picks coming to them next month, GM David Gettleman can nary afford to miss on any of them….and the odds are that he will miss on at least one if not more. Such is the nature of the NFL draft and the unpredictability of people that have never played an NFL down.

Yes, Gettleman has added low-cost options like DT Colin Cole, who very well could improve play over Ron Edwards, but the team still has a lot of question marks.

The one position where they may do nothing more is at cornerback. I recently spoke with Carolina Panthers’ fan favorite Captain Munnerlyn and got his ideas about the corners as a group and will be posting that interview next week. A bit of a “teaser” is that Captain is really psyched about the group they have, now that Gettleman has added Drayton Florence and D.J. Moore.

Overall, the cap problems have largely forced the Panthers to stand still while especially the Falcons and Bucs have had some room to make moves…not to mention the Saints getting their head coach back.

Rivera’s going to really earn his continued employment as Carolina’s head coach in 2013 with a strong team effort.

Let’s hope Rivera’s there in 2014 as well.

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Tags: Atlanta Falcons Carolina Panthers New Orleans Saints NFC South

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