The Saints official Twitter account was the first to officially break the news of the Coleman signing (as our very own Mac Gyver pointed out, the national media didn’t do a very good job reporting on this story):
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) April 1, 2013
Coleman is an 11-year veteran who brings a plethora of NFL experience to the table as Ryan transitions the Saints from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so let’s take a closer look at exactly how he fits.
For starters, Coleman only participated in seven games last year courtesy of a torn triceps that sent him to injured reserve. The Cowboys wanted nothing to do with him as he entered free agency this offseason purely because the team is switching to a new 4-3 defense under Monte Kiffin—Coleman doesn’t fit well at any position along the line in that scheme.
In his seven appearances last season, Coleman notched just 15 tackles and a forced fumble. His major contributions to a defense don’t come in the statistical column. Rather, it’s how he opens up lanes to the ball for those around him that make the difference. Coleman eats up multiple blockers, which in turn allows the linebackers behind him roam free and makes plays on the ball.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Coleman graded out very highly as a run defender in his limited action last season. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. In 2011 he started all 16 games in Dallas and Pro Football Focus ranked him as the No. 12 3-4 defensive end in the league, giving him exceptional marks overall and ranking him as a Top 10 run defender.
Now 33 years old, Coleman is unlikely to become a full-time starter at defensive end for the Saints unless he can prove he is healthy enough and wins the battle outright in camp.
As of now, the defensive ends penciled in as starters in the new 3-4 are Will Smith and Cameron Jordan, which means Coleman would contribute in a rotational capacity. Of course, this is subject to change with plenty of offseason remaining.
Coleman would thrive as a 3-4 rotational end, but don’t be shocked if he pushes for a starting role outright. He’s been a starter under Ryan in both Dallas and Cleveland, so Ryan knows what he brings to the table and how to use him best.
After all, this ability is what makes Ryan one of the best in the NFL at what he does. It’s also what is making his former players flock to New Orleans for a chance to play under him again.
At worst, Coleman rotates in, but even that’s a good thing. The NFL’s best defense have a relentless rotation of fresh players that assault opposing offensive lines for the entirety of a contest. New Orleans just got that much closer to having one of the NFL’s dominant defenses with the signing of Coleman.