Falcons hire Ryan Nielsen away from Saints as their new defensive coordinator


The Atlanta Falcons have gotten plenty of opportunities to see Ryan Nielsen-coached defenses over the past few seasons, and now they'll get to field one of their own.

Atlanta announced Friday that they had hired Nielsen as their new defensive coordinator, taking the position vacated by Dean Pees, who retired after the 2022 season.

Nielsen has been a member of the Saints' staff since 2017, starting as the defensive line coach before adding an assistant head coach title during the 2021 season. He was promoted to co-defensive coordinator alongside secondary coach Kris Richard for the 2022 season and for the first year with Dennis Allen as the head coach.

The co-DC setup was unique, and it's ultimately a key element in how the Falcons were able to poach Nielsen. Teams can block hires of their coaches for what would be a lateral move, but not for promotions. Being elevated into the DC role for Atlanta would count as a promotion, and Nielsen will be tasked with much more responsibility under an offensive-minded head coach in Arthur Smith. Nielsen had also interviewed with the Minnesota Vikings this offseason.

Neilsen's reputation as a defensive line leader is well documented, and the Saints' 281 sacks since he joined the staff in 2017 ranks second in the NFL. Three heavily-utilized members of the Saints' DL, DTs David Onyemata and Kentavius Street and DE Marcus Davenport are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason, and could now be targets to sign for Atlanta if Nielsen wants to bring familiar faces along.

The Saints, meanwhile, have decisions to make of their own as it pertains to defensive coordinator. The most likely course would be elevating Richard into the full DC role, but it might not be that simple. Two teams, the Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers, had requested to interview Richard for their DC openings.

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