Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon has had no shortage of critics since he entered the starting lineup at nose tackle in 2013, but a growing consensus among analysts of the game find that the majority of those criticisms about his play are misguided, or simply not representative of his play.
There is one criticism, however, that has been all too legitimate, and it is one that he will have to overcome as he enters his final season as an under-30 player—the final year of his three-year, $7.25 million contract, which he signed after a brief flirtation with the Packers, prompting the Steelers to elevate their offer from his restricted free agent tender.
That criticism quite simply is whether or not he has the ability to stay healthy for the duration of a playing season. Through two years as a starter, that has proven not to be the case, having missed six games and large stretches of others due to injury while playing many more games, including last year’s postseason loss, through injury.
The Steelers did not have a substantial body of information about McLendon prior to signing him to that contract, because he was only a part-time player while Casey Hampton was still around. He started only one year prior to 2013 when both Hampton and Chris Hoke were both injured.
While McLendon has shown that he has the physical ability to hold up in-game carrying out the responsibilities of the nose tackle position in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense, the concern at this stage of his career lies squarely on durability and whether he can be counted on.
Alex Kozora recently argued that the Steelers would be smart to let McLendon play out the final year of his contract before making the decision about whether or not to continue their working relationship, and this may be what ends up happening, although there is a lot of offseason left.
McLendon has recently expressed confidence in his ability to stay on the field this year, saying that he “took the necessary steps to get ready for this year”, which included having offseason surgery on the shoulder that caused him to miss four games in 2014.
That shoulder injury limited the mobility in his arm, losing both strength and range of motion, but with a lack of experience behind him, he pushed through the pain for the good of the team, perhaps more than he should have, even if there was not a notable drop in his performance when he was actually playing.
Whether or not that proves to be true will only be revealed as the season unfolds. While McLendon has said that he is trying not to worry about getting that third contract with the team, saying that it “will take care of itself”, it seems clear that it’s something that he’d like to happen, preferably with an offseason extension, rather than waiting for his contract to expire. But the Steelers may well be waiting on his results on the field before taking action on that third contract.