If the Saints look to the open market to solidify the interior defensive line in David Onyemata’s absence, there are options.
Defensive tackles was already looking like a spot the New Orleans Saints could work to further solidify ahead of the 2021 season. After losing 2015 first-round selection Sheldon Rankins in free agency and sending veteran nose tackle Malcom Brown to the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason, the team had already parted ways with two players that had received among the most snaps on the interior in 2020.
The expectation has always been that young players like Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach would step into bigger roles next to David Onyemata. In that case, adding a veteran to the rotation seems like a good enough idea. But last week, things got a bit more complicated than that when Onyemata, the Saints’ star defensive tackle, was hit with a six-game suspension stemming from violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Now, adding a veteran to the mix seems more likely and potential more necessary to tie the unit together in Onyemata’s absence.
Good thing is, positive news has been recently reported for free agents at the position.
The Cincinnati Bengals lifer had an abbreviated eight-game season in 2020 in which he was credited with no starts, one tackle, and one QB hit. Season-ending shoulder surgery sent Atkins to the injured reserve list in December, and he was cut by March. Last week, Atkins was cleared to return to football activities and is rumored to have interest from several teams, the Saints should be one of them.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 19, 2021
Atkins is an eight-time Pro Bowler with two First-Team All-Pro seasons in 2012 and 2015. He was also named to the NFL’s 2010 All-Decade Team, just like current New Orleans Saints defensive lineman Cameron Jordan. He piled on 4.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss, and 10 QB hits in 2019, where he appeared in all 16 games. He’s also amassed double-digit sacks, tackles for a loss, and QB hits in the same season three times in his career including as recently as the 2018 season. He’s also graded well as a run defender outside of the abbreviated 2020 season.
The former Carolina Panthers lineman also received some good news recently, being cleared for football activity. Short also saw his 2020 season cut short with season-ending shoulder surgery. His year was reduced to only games (all starts) in which he was credited with six combined tackles and one hit on the quarterback. While Short may not have the illustrious career of Geno Atkins, he was voted to two Pro Bowls in 2015 and 2018. He also has the “former Panther” thing going for him as the Saints have never been shy about poaching former talent from their division rivals in Charlotte.
Most definitely. #Saints and former Panthers aren’t a stretch.
Ted Ginn Jr.
Roman Harper (in his return, kinda cheating)
To name a few. https://t.co/EOptkBGk5x
— Ross Jackson (@RossJacksonNOLA) July 20, 2021
One big concern is that Short also saw his 2019 season end just after two games with a torn rotator cuff and missed the final two games of the 2018 season with a calf strain. Short’s 2020 shoulder injury was to a different shoulder than in 2019, but his recent injury record is concerning. The good news for the Saints is that they don’t need a full-time player at the position, or even a starter. Because of how much the team rotates it’s defensive line, short bursts of gametime are what’s most important, as opposed to game-long longevity.
The former Boilermaker has graded as a fantastic run defender before his two recent short seasons and has been a very reliable pass rusher from the interior as well.
Casey is somehow the youngest of these three players despite the fact that he feels like he’s been in the league forever. He started his career in Tennessee as an edge rusher for the Titans before spending three games in Denver with the Broncos last season. His season was also cut short, but with a bicep injury, thankfully avoiding any lower-body soft tissue injuries. Casey’s versatility could be the trait that sets him apart. In his final year with the Titans, he was credited with five sacks with several half-sacks in that mix. He achieved these as a nose tackle and 3-tech in even fronts, from the edge in odd fronts, as a stand up rusher on both the edge and interior, and continues to show off an impressive interior spin move.
Jurrell Casey with the fatboi spin. pic.twitter.com/MfiWeFZZCb
— Joe (R-E-L-A-X) Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) May 22, 2020
Not a fan of this caption, but it’s what I could find.
He has always looked very comfortable rushing from the inside and has always graded well in the run game. Pro Football Focus has him with 30+ run stops in all but two seasons, including his shortened 2020. Casey would be a great option for the Saints to consider because of his availability all along the defensive line, allowing them to maximize him with their usual rotation.
The fact of the matter is, as you can see above, no free agent available in July is perfect. Each of these players has a recent injury history and they are all above the age of 31. But despite the knocks they may get, the Saints’ rotation and system can still benefit from adding them to the roster while David Onyemata is suspended, and potentially after. And there’s no doubt that the Saints’ would benefit these players looking for a landing spot.
Offering them a host of talent around them, a rotation that won’t demand 700+ snaps in a season, and most importantly another chance to hit the field.
Of course, the Saints could keep this all in-house. But if they look to the market, it’s worth watching some other names as well. Such as Gerald McCoy, Beau Allen, and Damon “Snacks” Harrison.
Which DT do you think the Saints should pursue? Let us know your thoughts in the comment. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC , “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @RossJacksonNOLA and subscribe to my daily Saints podcast, Locked On Saints and checkout the Locked On Saints YouTube channel.