Consider me a fan of Steve McLendon. Really, I am. Someone who has thoroughly defended him. Acknowledged that he was no longer the 280 pound, undersized rookie tackle coming out of Troy. That he didn’t have to be, wasn’t supposed to be Casey Hampton, and his style is more suited to defending today’s running game.
He could have another fine season. Honestly.
So when I say that he should not get a contract extension before the start of the season, it’s not out of bias or stubbornness. The wisest move, pragmatically and financially, is to let him play out the final year.
McLendon doesn’t have the wear and tear of a typical player who will turn 30 in January but his age is still a factor in determining if he is worth an early extension. The physical demands of the position only speed up his shelf life. Already feeling the effects, he’s missed six games the past two seasons as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting nose tackle. games. An ankle injury knocked him out of the lineup in in the latter part of 2013 while a nagging shoulder sprain caused him to miss time last year.
There is no compelling reason to re-sign him and all the reason to let the season play out. It’s not dismissing the idea that he can’t be re-signed after 2015 but what’s the rush? Why not see if he really breaks out as a third-year starter? Can he play all 16 games? Is his market going to suddenly explode after 2015, regardless of how it pans out? Unlikely. He’ll always be an affordable option.
The promising, albeit early, signs of Daniel McCullers is all the more reason to wait. McCullers could play well enough to make McLendon expendable, or at the least, ensure the team won’t overpay in the offseason.
If the team pays McLendon now and McCullers continues to improve, you’re stuck figuring out a way to get two nose tackles on the field in a defense that used one just 50% of the time in 2014. Sure, a good problem to have, but one that can be avoided and decided after the year is through.
Kelvin Beachum and Cameron Heyward are far more important players to reach long-term deals with, putting McLendon on the backburner. They’re younger, play more snaps at premier positions, and don’t have the luxury of depth around them. That is where the team’s focus should lie. Realistically, there is no chance the Steelers extend three players before the start of the season. Almost automatically takes McLendon out of the equation.
I get it. It’s comforting to know one of the cogs in your defense is inked to a long-term deal. And it is always a little unnerving not knowing exactly how things will develop. I’m sure you can conjure up some nightmare scenarios of waiting on him, too.
But there are situations where you have to take your chances. All things considered, his age, injury history, depth, and other needs, this is a perfect time to wait.