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2019 NFL Free Agency

Is Taking a Risk on Former Lions All-Pro Still the “Ansah” for Saints D-Line Depth?

Although the New Orleans Saints appear to have addressed a large portion of their team "weak spots" or deficiencies in the first 3 weeks of NFL Free Agency, the team still remains interested in acquiring another edge pass rusher capable of playing the Wide 9-Technique defensive end spot on the side opposite of All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan; which had been formerly held by 6th year veteran Alex Okafor, who left the team to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs.

As most Saints fans that follow the team year round might be aware: the team's Front Office brass has been one of the main suitors for the services of former Detroit Lions All-Pro defensive end Ezekiel Ansah; the soon-to-be 30 year old pass rusher extraordinaire and one of this Off-Season's top available free agent players at that position. 

However, questions regarding a surgical procedure on his shoulder that he had done following the end of last season in early January continue to linger around Ansah.

Photo courtesy of The Associated Press

As it was noted previously by ESPN.com staff writer Michael Rothstein, the former All-American from BYU (Brigham Young University) has had a series of surgeries that has forced him to miss a total of 14 regular season games in the past 3 years, which include additional procedures to repair the other shoulder and a torn biceps (2014) as well as having endured and played through some minor injuries to his ankle and knee.

The good news about that as far as the Saints would be concerned, is that given the uncertainty of Ansah's projected recovery, it potentially means that as a consequence, the Ghana native could drop his asking price in any potential contract negotiations.

Some believe that since he's been slowed by injuries, Ansah’s best bet might be to take a 1-year "prove it" deal, even though it's believed that he is seeking to get $10-plus million annually. The problem that he faces however is that most of the teams that are thought to be interested in his services, might not want to guarantee him too much money beyond the first year.

If so, Ansah and his agent could always just accept a short-term deal with the plan being to prove himself and then go back next off-season and hit the open market again as a 31-year-old free agent possibly seeking one final "big" contract next year, before his eventual retirement.

However, as it was reported earlier this week by NFL "insider" Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, the Saints and a few other interested NFL teams (including the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers among others) have decided to wait until Ansah undergoes his medically-ordered 4-month checkup appointment in 2 weeks from now (mid-April) before continuing discussions on a free agent contract. 

Saints head coach Sean Payton has previously said that the team will keep its options open with regard to adding another pass rushing specialist to replace Okafor; which was one of the reasons why the Saints had been previously mentioned as a potential trade partner with the Miami Dolphins to acquire their veteran defensive end Robert Quinnwho eventually was traded to the Dallas Cowboys.

So until Ansah actually gets seen by his doctor and the reports of his prognosis from that examination come back, the Saints and the rest of the other NFL teams that are interested in signing him basically are just waiting around to receive official word on whether or not the former Lions #1 pick (5th overall) in the 2013 NFL Draft, is worth taking the risk on.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Ironically, it was right before the start of free agency 3 weeks ago that NFL.com writer / analyst Adam Schein listed Ansah as one of the nine biggest risks of the currently on-going 2019 NFL Free Agency period.

Schein wrote that Ansah "has had trouble staying healthy, missing 14 games over the past three seasons. I think a smart, playoff favorite will pounce on a short-term prove-it deal and hope Ansah gets back to his double-digit-sack form. But maybe, with Ziggy turning 30 in May, his productive days are behind him."

Nevertheless, whether or not Schein's observation ends up being an accurate one is an assessment that Saints team brass will have to ultimately determine for themselves.

This much is known: when Ansah is actually healthy, he is still one of the better pure pass rushers at his position, League-wide.

Some Saints fans may recall that Ansah was born and raised in the African nation of Ghana, where he grew up at first loving the sports of soccer and basketball as a youth. It was during that time that he met a Mormon missionary from Utah that became one of his good friends, who suggested that he should leave Ghana and come to the United States as an 18-year old to try out for the Cougars men's basketball team.

Because Ansah is an OUTSTANDING student academically, he was awarded a scholarship to BYU in 2008; where he tried out for the BYU Cougars men's basketball team twice in back-to-back years, but eventually got cut both times (2008 and 2009). Ansah then decided to turn his attention to the sport of Track and Field, and he even made the Cougars track team as a walk-on.

It was then that a fellow athlete suggested he try out for the BYU football program because of his notable size, and as they say: the rest is history.

Photo courtesy of the Provo Daily Herald

Ansah would end up playing 3 seasons for the Cougars, from 2010 through 2012. But it really wasn't until his senior season of 2012 that NFL scouts realized just how talented he actually was.

During his time at Provo, the 6-foot-6, 275 pounder played in a grand total of 31 total games and tallied 72 tackles (39 solo), but after essentially serving primarily as a back-up for the first two seasons, Ansah EXPLODED onto the scene as a senior that year and had 13 tackles for loss, forced a fumble and tallied 4.5 sacks as BYU had one of the best D-Lines in the entire nation that year.

It was then prior to the 2013 Draft that scouts quickly began paying attention to the young man who at that time was rapidly rising up the Draft Boards of many teams; thanks to his phenomenal performance at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.

Ansah was coveted for his versatility (he can play both defensive end and tackle, and has even played as a "stand-up" outside linebacker), quickness, athleticism, consistency, and unmatched length as well as the unbelievable foot speed for a man of that size which made him extremely desirable to a handful of different teams.

It was then that Detroit snatched him up quickly with the 5th overall pick; and now after a total of 6 NFL seasons later, Ansah for his entire NFL career has played in a total of 80 games (73 starts), with 218 tackles (162 solo), 60 TFL's (tackles for loss), 48 sacks, 110 "QB hits", and 10 forced fumbles.

Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

This much is evident: when HEALTHY, there's no disputing just how talented Ansah is and still can be. But the human body is only capable of enduring a specific amount of physical abuse or punishment, and clearly Ansah has had his share in recent years. 

For the Saints, the timing will be the critical thing that likely could impact their final decision the most, since the results of Ansah's examination likely will be released PRIOR to the 2019 NFL Draft later next month in Nashville, Tennessee (April 25th through the 27th).

That should give the Saints enough time to determine if Ansah is really the "answer" for their D-line depth, or to go in a much different direction altogether.....

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Saints News Network columnist (and Big Easy Magazine contributing writer) Barry Hirstius is a 51-year old semi-retired journalist, former New Orleans-area sports editor, and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints football team. Additionally, he is a recurring guest on a variety of local Sports Talk Radio programs. Barry is also a New Orleans native who grew up as a fan of the team while attending games as a young boy at the old Tulane Stadium in the early 1970’s, originally following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.....

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