The Atlanta Falcons are looking high and low for replacements for Dean Pees, including towards its dreaded rival. Not that such a thing is unprecedented: the Falcons previously snagged general manager Terry Fontenot, defensive tackle Tyeler Davison, wide receiver Lance Moore, and wide receiver Joe Horn.
Could co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen be next?
Per Bruce Feldman of the Athletic, the Falcons are looking into it.
The Falcons have requested to interview Saints co-DC/D-line coach Ryan Nielsen for their defensive coordinator vacancy, per league sources. Nielsen's work in recent years with New Orleans’ defensive front is highly regarded around the league.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) January 14, 2023
Who is Nielsen? He served as New Orleans’ assistant head coach, and was offered the defensive coordinator spot at LSU in 2021. In his six seasons at New Orleans, the defensive line has frequently been one of its top assets, ranking third in league sacks with a league-record stretch of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.
The Saints had also been extremely competent at coaching up young defensive players who aren’t Marcus Davenport. The Falcons could certainly use a coach with a defensive line focus. The team may also relish at taking away talent from the Saints.
While the Falcons have politely and officially requested to interview Nielsen, the Saints can’t block the interview unless if it decides to promote Nielsen to defensive coordinator and cut ties with Kris Richard. The Falcons were reportedly blocked from interviewing Ejiro Evero from Denver as it was for a lateral position (Evero may become available after Denver hires a new head coach, meaning Atlanta may be able to interview him if it just waits a week).
If the Falcons add Nielsen, expect Fontenot to be very aggressive signing players both he and Nielsen are familiar with, like free agents DT David Onyemata, DE Marcus Davenport (for very, very cheap?), and DT Shy Tuttle.
More information to come on Atlanta’s interviews for Dean Pees replacements.