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Falcons reportedly agree to deal with free agent DT David Onyemata

The potent defensive tackle will join Grady Jarrett and Ta’Quon Graham on a suddenly more menacing defensive line.

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Falcons had to add to their defensive line. Last year, they coaxed competence out of a collection of late round picks, undrafted free agents, summer signings, and the great Grady Jarrett, but that’s not a sustainable or tenable situation. Only Jarrett and Ta’Quon Graham are surefire quality pieces of the line heading into 2023.

They took care of that early, assuming this deal is finalized on Wednesday. The Falcons have added former Saints defensive tackle David Onyemata, a 30-year-old wrecking ball who reunites with Falcons defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, his coach for several seasons in New Orleans. Per insider Mike Garafolo:

And contract terms from Adam Schefter:

Onyemata may be on the wrong side of 30, but he’s a force of nature on the interior. He’s coming off a down year in terms of his run defense, but Onyemata has been solid at worst in that regard his entire career and frequently much better than that. As a pass rusher on the interior, Onyemata is (and I mean this fondly) a huge pain in the ass, someone who generates solid pressure on a consistent basis and is fresh off a five sack season. As a strong, athletic player who can do everything well, Onyemata is an obvious upgrade for this defensive line. Nielsen, who is familiar with his strengths, should be able to continue to put him in a position to succeed in Atlanta.

A Canadian import who played college ball at Manitoba, Onyemata was drafted in the fourth round back in 2016 by New Orleans and began making an impact as a rotational player in 2017, putting up two sacks in six starts. The next year he managed 4.5 in just four starts, and he has been a full-time starter ever since, playing around 60% of the defensive snaps in New Orleans every season since 2017. Over his career, he’s managed 23 sacks, 63 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and a single interception.

The downside? Age is one, as you never know if a defensive tackle past the age of 30 will continue to roll or will begin to slow down. The second one worth mentioning is Onyemata’s history of suspensions, as he was suspended one game in 2019 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and six games in 2021 for testing positive for a banned substance. The hope is that he continues to be a force over the next two-to-three seasons he spends in Atlanta, but if you’re looking for reasons to worry (which would be very Falcons fan-like of you), there they are.

His familiarity with Ryan Nielsen was likely critical here. Nielsen joined the Falcons as their defensive coordinator this offseason, but prior to that he had coached the defensive line every single year from 2017 on, which coincided with Onyemata’s rise to relevance in New Orleans. The two know eachother well, in other words, and Onyemata is getting a nice deal to play with his longtime coach and a great running mate in Grady Jarrett.

That will be helped by the presence of Jarrett in particular and Graham to a lesser extent, as the Falcons suddenly have three capable starters along this line. Onyemata and Jarrett together could be borderline unfair when both players are firing on all cylinders, while Graham is a great bet to give you solid-at-worst play and could be headed for a breakout in his crucial third season. The team needs to add more talent and certainly depth here, but Onyemata should at least for the short-term be a transformative presence for a line that badly needed one.

Give the former Saint a warm welcome, and let’s hope he can wreak havoc on his former team in particular in 2023.