The Saints found themselves in a fortunate position with their interior defense in 2019. After Sheldon Rankins’ excellent 2018 season was sadly cut short by an Achilles tear, the Saints had a solid stable of defensive tackles throughout 2019.
Among those tackles were 2019 free agent acquisitions Malcolm Brown and Mario Edwards. The returning David Onyemata continued what has been an unheralded solid career, while Shy Tuttle and Taylor Stallworth rounded out the rotation.
Rankins played in 10 games last season, while the former Patriot Brown started ever game last season for the Saints. Edwards saw action in 14 games. Brown’s consistency makes him an important piece going forward for the Saints.
Moving forward, the Saints have one year left on Rankins’ rookie contract after picking up his fifth-year option, one year on Edwards’ deal, and two years on Tuttle and Brown’s contracts. Stallworth will be a restricted free agent after the upcoming season.
The Saints now have to put a lot of thought into this position. Despite having a strong defensive line that contributed to finishing fourth in the league in rushing defense last year, Rankins’ ongoing health issues are a concern. He has now had issues to his leg and Achilles, in addition to an ankle injury at the end of last season that shut him down.
The best potential player on the market will be Marcell Dareus, but his club option will likely be picked up by the Jaguars. Here are the Saints’ options moving into free agency.
Get a free agent
As good as this idea seems on paper, it’s not so simple in practice. It’s slim pickins in big man free agency. Michael Brockers will hit the market, but he’ll command a hefty price. The Lions’ Mike Daniels will also be hitting free agency. The Saints have other, more pressing needs, so they’ll likely want to go mid-tier if they go this route.
That means to look out for someone a bit younger who can play in a hybrid defense, like Michael Pierce from Baltimore or Vernon Butler out of Carolina, who played a season with Sean McDermott as a rookie in 2016 and is still rather young.
Draft a guy
The Saints wouldn’t want to do this in the first round, and it’s hard to imagine them trading in to get a tackle (although with Mickey Loomis and Sean Payton that’s not impossible). With that in mind, a Day 2 or 3 guy like Raekwon Davis out of Alabama might be their best bet here. DaVon Hamilton might be a sleeper pick as well, as the Saints notoriously love their Buckeyes, but they likely don’t want to go crazy in the draft and take a guy within the first two days at a position that isn’t a pressing need.
Trade for someone
This one is always tricky, as there are a lot of factors at play. So when talking about teams in win-now mode, trades usually come in the form of rentals. Dareus is the most obvious option, as the Jaguars are in a pseudo-rebuilding phase. Cameron Heyward in Pittsburgh could be another option, although the price to get him might be too much. Otherwise, there aren’t many strong 2021 free agent candidates.
Like a lot of positions defensively for the Saints, this is the most obvious option. Given Loomis’ penchant for kicking the can down the road, it’s likely that he tackles the defensive tackle question when it’s more pressing next season, rather than undertaking a new contract now. It’s arguably the most logical move with Brown and Edwards playing at the level they have been, and it will allow the Saints to target more pressing positions of need this offseason.