Saints 2021 Defensive Tackle Free Agency Preview

New Orleans could lose two terrific interior defenders this offseason.  Could they add a defensive tackle in free agency?
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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.

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) tackles Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 3, 2021; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata (93) tackles Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel (10). Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) attempts a pass while Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris (95) attempts a tackle. Photo by Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) attempts a pass while Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris (95) attempts a tackle. Photo by Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 

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)

Sep 8, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks to pass as Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) pressures. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

Sep 8, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) looks to pass as Carolina defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) pressures. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY

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.

Jan 9, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) is pressured by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (56). Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY

Jan 9, 2021; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) is pressured by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (56). Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY

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.

Nov 22, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws against Raiders defensive tackle Maliek Collins (97). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY 

Nov 22, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws against Raiders defensive tackle Maliek Collins (97). Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY 

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.

Jan 11, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws under pressure from Minnesota defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson (94). Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 11, 2020; Santa Clara, California, USA; 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws under pressure from Minnesota defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson (94). Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

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.