On Friday morning, New Orleans Saints' defensive tackle David Onyemata's announcement hit the newswires that he will face a suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Onyemata's suspension further thins out a position group that had been hit hard by personnel losses this offseason.
Malcom Brown, who played in 32 of 35 games in his two years with the Saints and started 13 games last year, was traded to Jacksonville.
Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans' 12th overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, has signed with the New York Jets in free agency.
Shy Tuttle and Malcolm Roach, two former undrafted players, have made contributions on the defensive line over the last two seasons.
The team's defensive interior includes undrafted rookies Lorenzo Neal Jr., Josiah Bronson, and former UDFA Jalen Dalton. Free-agent acquisition Tanoh Kpassagnon can also slide inside from his defensive end position.
With $11.3 million in available cap space, the Saints were expected to pursue one of the veteran cornerbacks still available on the free-agent market.
The league has not officially stated if shutdown cornerback Marshon Lattimore will be suspended after his arrest in Cleveland, Ohio, on a possession of a stolen weapon's charge.
Even with the promising Tuttle and Roach up front, the Saints could look to add another veteran defensive tackle.
AVAILABLE FREE-AGENT DEFENSIVE TACKLES (7-16-21)
Here are the players still available at the position on the free agent market.
- Geno Atkins (33 - Bengals)
- Kawann Short (32 - Panthers)
- Jurrell Casey (31 - Broncos)
- Beau Allen (29 - Patriots)
- Damon Harrison (32 - Packers)
- Sylvester Williams (32 - Broncos)
- Margus Hunt (34 - Bengals)
- Domata Peko (36 - Cardinals)
Most New Orleans fans are clamoring for either Atkins or Short. Atkins, son of former Saints safety Gene Atkins, was one of the NFL's best interior pass rushers from 2011 to 2018. The 6’1” and 300-Lb. Atkins has 75.5 career sacks and 100 tackles for loss, but age and injuries have significantly slowed his production in the last two years.
The Saints are very familiar with Short, who starred for all eight of his NFL seasons with division rival Carolina. Short, 6’3” and 315-Lbs., has been limited to just five games over the last two years because of injury. Between 2015 and 2018 he had 27.5 sacks, 70 QB hits, and 47 tackles for loss.
Casey, who is reportedly mulling offers from different teams, could be an underrated grab for the Saints. A five-time Pro Bowler for the Tennessee Titans, Casey was limited to just three games with Denver in 2020 because of a bicep tear.
At 6’1” and 305-Lbs., Casey has the agility to play defensive end in some alignments. Between 2013 and 2019, he had 40.5 sacks, 71 tackles for loss, and 102 QB pressures.
Beau Allen and Damon Harrison are big-bodied defenders who don't show up big on the stat sheet. They are best used against the run and to push the pass pocket as rotational players.
Demato Peko is a highly respected interior lineman towards the end of his career but can be used in the Saints' rotation.
Hunt and Williams were both with the Saints previously. Williams was one of the final cuts of the 2019 preseason despite a solid training camp. The 6’8” and 295-Lb. Hunt played four games with the Saints in 2020 before being signed off the practice squad by Cincinnati.
One of the factors that made the fourth-ranked New Orleans defense so effective in 2020 was incredible depth up front. Onyemata is an emerging star who was being counted on for a big year.
Who and if the Saints bring in any of the available free-agent defensive tackles will be determined once the NFL mandates the length of Onyemata's suspension.
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