The New Orleans Saints 2020 season at defensive tackle will be defined by health, contracts, and consistency.
Often looked at as a strength of the team last season, the future at defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints may look different next season. At the top of the list is the future of defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins.
When healthy, Rankins has shown to be an absolute force in the middle. Take his 2018 campaign for example. Rankins was able to start all 16 games and posted career highs in sacks (8) and tackles (40). This prompted the Saints to pick up his 5th-year option on the team.
Health, however, may be a grave concern moving forward. Rankins has been placed on the injured reserve list the last 2 seasons after injuries had cut his year short. He is set to make a base salary of $7.6 million dollars this coming season.
Making matters more convoluted is his upcoming salary this year is guaranteed, so even cutting him counts the exact same against the cap. That makes things even more interesting for an important player who is a free agent, David Onyemata.
The soon to be fifth-year veteran is an unrestricted free agent and a top priority for the Saints to re-sign in my opinion. If the saying, your best ability should be your availability holds any weight, then Onyemata certainly fits the bill.
He has never missed a game in his career due to injury, only being suspended one game at the start of last season due to a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. In the games he’s played he’s been a valuable contributor to the league’s 2nd ranked run defense last year.
At what cost will it be to keep him is the biggest question?
If the Saints are not able to retain Onyemata, they will need to rely heavily on newcomer Shy Tuttle to step up.
Tuttle showed flashes last year in his rookie season, recording 2 sacks, 18 tackles, 1 interception, and a stiff arm for the ages. More of this will be needed if the Saints cannot contractually reach an agreement with Onyemata.
The Saints still have under contract veterans Malcom Brown and Mario Edwards Jr. While they are solid rotational players, they do not have the solid impact a healthy Sheldon Rankins makes.
Don’t be surprise if the Saints may look to bring another starter in if Onyemata and the team can’t agree to terms. If the money is right, a guy like Javon Hargrave from the Pittsburgh Steelers would be a perfect fit.
Arguably, one of the deepest positions on the New Orleans Saints may face some questions in the upcoming year. With the salary cap being the way it is for the team, some difficult decisions may have to be made on the team.
Whether the team looks to re-sign a key piece, bring in a starter from another team, or draft in a later round of the NFL draft, I fully expect once again the defensive tackle position to be a bright spot in the 2020 season.