After seeing David Onyemata join his former position coach (Ryan Nielsen) in Atlanta, New Orleans is addressing its defensive tackle spot with multiple additions.
The Saints are expected to sign both Khalen Saunders and Nathan Shepherd, NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero and ESPN.com’s Dianna Russini report (Twitter links). Saunders’ deal is worth up to $14.5MM over three years, Pelissero tweets.
Shepherd was one of three Jets defensive tackles to hit the open market, joining ex-Saint Sheldon Rankins and Solomon Thomas. The Jets are trying to bring Rankins back, but one of their former Day 2 picks will not join him. Shepherd, a former third-round choice, spent the past five seasons with the Jets. Also a former third-round pick, Saunders played out his rookie contract with the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII.
Drafted out of Division II Fort Hays State, Shepherd worked as a rotational D-lineman in New York. The 12-game starter totaled 22 quarterback hits over the past three seasons, and although the 315-pound performer’s sack total (six) underwhelms, Pro Football Focus graded him as a top-10 pass rusher among interior linemen last season.
Saunders finished with a career-high 3.5 sacks last season, breaking through after playing just 10 games from 2020-21. A Western Illinois alum partially known for his backflip prowess, Saunders added a sack in the playoffs for the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Playing alongside Chris Jones certainly did not hurt Saunders, who played a career-most 421 defensive snaps last season. PFF slotted the 324-pound player 74th overall among interior D-linemen in 2022.
Onyemata agreed to a three-year, $35MM deal with the Falcons, who hired Nielsen as their DC this offseason. The talented inside rusher, who played seven seasons with the Saints, left a void inside for the NFC South club. Saunders and Shepherd will aim to fill it.