The San Francisco 49ers have three interior defensive linemen listed as free agents, prompting analyst Jordan Elliott of SB Nation to call defensive tackle a “sneaky need” for the 2023 49ers on Thursday, February 16.
The 49ers may consider holding off until April to draft some more muscle at this spot. But Elliott believes a $26 million free agent would give the Niners “an immediate boost up front.” And his defensive lineman option on the interior: David Onyemata of the New Orleans Saints, who is a UFA for the 2023 cycle.
Veteran Has Helped Produce Strong Lines in the Bayou
Onyemata is obviously not a household name on a defensive line that features Pro Bowler and former Bay Area star at the University of California Cameron Jordan. But, 49er fans have seen defensive line coach Kris Kocurek turn unknown names into well-known disruptors for teams game-planning for the 49ers’ defensive line.
The 30-year-old Onyemata would already be perfect for this defensive line in that regard as he’s been a reliable presence in the trenches in the Bayou. The 6-foot-4, 300-pounder has served as the space eater inside to help free up Jordan and the others. And in the process, the Saints have become a top 10 defense in the past two seasons.
But here’s where the 49ers may get enticed by Onyemata: His ability to attack the passer. In the last four seasons, he’s delivered between 11 to 16 quarterback hits per Pro Football Reference. He’s delivered 23 career sacks from his inside spot — and that includes the career-best 6.5 he delivered in 2020, which was also the season that saw his first interception. Last season witnessed him snatch five sacks while starting in all 17 games for the first time in his career.
Elliott shined an example of Onyemata’s ability to be in an attack mode against quarterbacks — by pulling out this clip of him facing the 49ers during the 2022 regular season which showed some rare snap explosion for a defender his size:
He even clogged a running lane with All-Pro behemoth Trent Williams on the same side across the line of scrimmage from him — and Onyemata still won the trench battle with the needed push:
What Could it Take to Get Onyemata on Board?
Again, the 49ers are facing a 2023 without three interior options. And that includes 2022 free agent pickup Hassan Ridgeway, who was on a one-year deal. As stout and loaded the defensive line was, the 49ers could still be ravaged by free agency in the trenches. Outside of Ridgeway, versatile end/tackle Charles Omenihu is a unrestricted free agent along with Jordan Willis and Samson Ebukam.
As for the Saints, they’re in the red according to Over The Cap — with them more than $55 million over the cap limit. ESPN Saints reporter Katherine Terrell wrote on Monday, February 13 how the Saints can free up to $80 million by restructuring deals involving star players Jordan, Alvin Kamara, Marshon Lattimore while also cutting starters Michael Thomas at wide receiver and quarterback Jameis Winston.
But as for Onyemata, Terrell writes “Onyemata would count $10.1 million against the salary cap if he leaves.” Then added “If the Saints gave Onyemata the same deal he got in 2020 (three years and a void year, $27 million, $10 million signing bonus), it would be a cap hit of $9.4 million (base salary and signing bonus added to the $5.71 million of the old signing bonus on the 2023 cap). While that particular scenario wouldn’t save the Saints a ton of cap space, at least they wouldn’t be spending $10 million in cap room on a player they don’t have.”
Then there’s this: The possibility of adding a veteran quarterback like Derek Carr to lead the Saints offense, as Carr was released by the Las Vegas Raiders and is free to sign anywhere effective March 15. The Saints may want someone here for more than a three-year deal and the four-time Pro Bowler is now one of the best available QBs for the upcoming free agent period. But signing Carr could put N.O. in a bind with luring back Onyemata.
Still, Onyemata would fit the billing of unknown names who become valuable in the 49ers trenches if brought over. And just envision him and 6-foot-7 Arik Armstead together as one gap containers for S.F.