ProFootballTalk reported that Bucs DT Gerald McCoy will remain in Tampa Bay through the 2019 season. Though it was never a sure thing that McCoy would be out of Tampa, this is a big blow in Free Agency for New Orleans Saints fans who were hoping that he’d reach the open market. The Saints have a hole, potentially a canyon, at the defensive interior which has turned into a position of need. Sheldon Rankins tore his achilles in the Divisional Round of the playoffs and won’t be back on the field until October at the earliest, and fellow DT David Onyemata was arrested earlier this month for Marijuana possession by the Jefferson Parrish Sheriff’s Office and is likely to face a suspension at the top of the season. So what options remain for New Orleans with McCoy not set to become available? Let’s take a look.
Familiar options from last season’s Free Agency pursuit Ndamukong Suh and Muhammad Wilkerson will be on the market this offseason. Suh was in heavy negotiations with New Orleans last offseason before settling in with the Los Angeles Rams on a one-year $14 million contract. He performed well toward the end of 2018 and the playoffs, but his lack of early performance could knock his price down a bit. He’s a polarizing option as lots of Saints fans don’t want him near the culture. His price tag may keep him out of consideration altogether anyway unless he’s looking for an extended, multi-year deal. During his time in Los Angeles he compiled 59 tackles, 4 for a loss, and 4.5 sacks. He also added an 86.7 run defense PFF grade and 37 defensive stops.
Wilkerson was also in talks with New Orleans before joining Green Bay on a one-year deal as well. His contract was for $5 million. His season ended much earlier than anticipated however after suffering a Week 3 ankle injury and having to undergo season ending surgeries. In his few games as a Packer, Wilkerson graded well with a 76.5 overall defensive grade and a 76.4 run defense grade per PFF.
Recently released New York Jet Mike Pennel could be a great option for New Orleans. Not a natural pass rusher from the position, Pennel only has one sack over his 69 career games playing with both the Jets and previously the Packers. However, his run stopping ability is recognized highly by Pro Football Focus who grades him at an 87.0 in run defense for 2018. Last season he totaled 20 defensive stops in his 211 run defense snaps which is a fantastic ratio of affecting the run game in his limited snaps against at 9.3%.
The Saints can also stay at home and work to bring back URFA Saints Tyeler Davison. His production in the run game has been beneficial to the team, making 13 defensive stops and 2 tackles for a loss in 2018. But in doing so with 208 run defense snaps, it looks like Pennel might be a more efficient option in the run game – where the Saints finished second in the league last year. Davison did also add 2 sacks last season along with his production in the run game, however. So it would come down to how much you value the interior pass rush over the interior run defense. Want someone that can do a little of both well? Or someone that can excel in one or the other?
The last option I’ll mention is yet another vet with Jets ties, Sheldon Richardson. The Saints were high on him in the draft but he went off the board two picks before the Saints landed Kenny Vaccaro. Richardson had a prove-it season with the Vikings last year in which he locked down 49 tackles, 5 sacks, and 16 QB Hits. He might be a little pricey for New Orleans, but he could be an outstanding fill-in to the interior line and then a great piece to add to the rotation with Rankins and Onyemata when they return.
The Saints also have DTs Taylor Stallworth, outstanding UDFA rookie from 2018 and potentially Tyrunn Walker who was signed during the playoffs after Rankins’ injury. They can also await Falcons DT Grady Jarrett, though it’s unlikely he’ll hit the open market.
Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC