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Saints lose two defensive line starters to NFC South rivals

Defensive lineman David Onyemata during a game against the Buccaneers in 2021 (Photo courtesy of the New Orleans Saints)

Although the New Orleans Saints benefited offensively during free agency last week, the team received a taste of sour grapes on Monday defensively.

This morning, the Saints lost two starting defensive tackles in David Onyemata and Shy Tuttle to two different NFC South rivals.

Onyemata agreed to terms on a three-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons that was reported by ESPN’s Mike Garafolo, who added that the contract is valued at $35 million with $24.5 million guaranteed. The team’s top defensive tackle earned about $26 million from the Saints in his last contract.

The move to Atlanta reunites Onyemata with former Saints defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen who was recently hired by the Falcons in the same capacity.

In 2021, Onyemata was suspended for six games by the NFL for violation of the performance-enhancing drug policy. This was Onyemata’s second suspension after being suspended for one game in 2019 for possession of marijuana.

Onyemata’s departure from New Orleans also means that roughly $10.1 million in dead money will accelerate onto the Saints’ salary cap from past restructure with Onyemata.

An hour later, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the Carolina Panthers shook hands with Shy Tuttle at the start of the free agency legal tampering period. Schefter added that Tuttle got his own three-year deal with Carolina valued at up to $19.5 million, carrying $13 million in guarantees.

This action qualifies for a compensatory pick in the sixth round of the 2024 draft depending on other conditions.

Onyemata has been a full-time starter for the Saints since the 2019 season and played all 17 games in 2023, setting a career-high with 25 solo tackles as he put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. He also tallied five sacks on defense.

Tuttle went undrafted and was eventually signed by New Orleans on April 27, 2019. He’s played in 63 games with 33 starts for the Saints over his four pro seasons – amassing 143 combined tackles (nine for a loss), 4.0 sacks, eight quarterback hits, an interception, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.

Losing both defensive tackles will be tough for New Orleans as the Saints must now try to use free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft to find help in these positions.

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