The New Orleans Saints had a defense that ranked in the league's top-5 in nearly every category in 2020. A major reason their dominance was a deep corps of disruptive defensive tackles.
New Orleans had re-signed 28-Yr old DT David Onyemata last offseason, locking up their emerging star for the next three years. He teamed with Sheldon Rankins, the 12th overall choice in the 2016 draft, and run-stopper Malcom Brown to make a formidable inside threesome.
The Saints have also hit big on a few undrafted rookie finds, getting quality play in recent seasons from Taylor Stallworth, Shy Tuttle, and Malcolm Roach along their defensive interior over the last three seasons. The depth was so strong that Stallworth could not make the team and was released prior to the start of last season.
The recent release of Malcom Brown because of salary cap issues and the likely loss of Sheldon Rankins in free agency has put a dent in the team's interior depth. Given their salary cap problems, we won't see the Saints spend top dollar on this position in free agency.
However, here are a few pending free agent defensive tackles that could be inexpensive and would be good fits for the team.
Maliek Collins (26 - Raiders)
Tyrone Crawford (31 - Cowboys)
John Jenkins (32 - Bears)
Jaleel Johnson (27 - Vikings)
Rakeem Nunez-Roches (28 - Buccaneers)
Larry Ogunjobi (27 - Browns)
Roy Robertson-Harris (28 - Bears)
Kawann Short (32 - Panthers)
(Age and previous team in parentheses)
Robertson-Harris and Short are two accomplished defenders that might realistically be a little pricey for New Orleans. Each are expected to get the range that Malcom Brown was due to earn this season.
Jenkins, who was with New Orleans from 2013 to 2016, is a big-bodied run stuffer. He would be more valuable on early downs and short yardage situations. Jenkins joins other former Saints defensive linemen Taylor Stallworth, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Mario Edwards Jr., and Alex Okafor on the free agent market.
Nunez-Roches is not a household name, but has been a vital part of an outstanding Tampa Bay defense that won a Super Bowl last season and has ranked 1st against the run the last two years. He teamed with Ndamukong Suh to maintain a high level of interior play even when DT Vita Vea missed time with injuries.
Collins and Crawford once formed a disruptive duo in Dallas, but each are coming off disappointing outings in 2020. Both are capable defenders against the run and as pass rushers who can stay in the lineup in any situation.
Johnson was a bright spot on a putrid Minnesota defense in 2020. His snap count was a career-high this season, and he shows promise as a pass rusher besides being a disruptive run defender.
It's still possible that the Saints could bring Malcom Brown back at a cheaper rate. His importance to the defense was highlighted last year when he missed three games with a shoulder injury. New Orleans struggled against the run in all three contests.
The Saints still have a solid rotation of tackles without Brown or Rankins with Onyemata, Tuttle, and Roach. However, one strength of this defense in 2020 was their interior depth, which kept their tackles fresh late in games.
New Orleans could look to add a tackle in the draft, such as Washington's Levi Onwuzurike or Alim McNeill of N.C. State. If they add a player in free agency, Jaleel Johnson or Larry Ogunjobi would be terrific fits, while other run-stuffing options or pass rush specialists will also be available.