Player: Steve McLendon
Position: Nose Tackle
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $2,808,334
2015 Season Breakdown: There is good news and bad news in 2015 for Steve McLendon. The good news is that he has stayed healthy for the first time in his career as a consistent contributor, playing in all 16 regular season games and both of the Steelers’ postseason games.
The bad news is that the team is also continually moving further and further away from utilizing the 3-4 front as their base defense, meaning that there are less snaps to go around for the nose tackle position than there has been before.
The good news is that, when the Steelers were in their base 3-4 defense, or in a goal line package, he and the front line played very well against the run, posting some very encouraging statistics, including yards per carry, explosive plays, and touchdowns allowed, all of which were in the top third in the league.
The bad news is that he has never emerged as the pass rushing potential from the interior that many thought that he would be capable of being when he moved into the starting lineup three years ago. Perhaps outside of some health concerns, that has to be his biggest disappointment.
On the season, McLendon recorded 14 tackles, one sack, and a pass defensed, and as I have written previously, he took a lot of his snaps—well under 50 percent of the team’s total snaps—not in the 3-4, but rather as a defensive tackle in the Steelers’ nickel package, which has become their base defense over the past few years, steering sharply in that direction this past season.
While he may not offer the pass rush that the Steelers may hope for, he has still been a very solid interior defensive line player for the team over the years, particularly during his time as the starting nose tackle. He has enough strength to contend with opposing offensive linemen, but he also has the agility to beat them one-on-one, or even to sidestep for doubt teaming efforts.
Free Agency Outlook: McLendon is actually slated to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. Back in 2013, when he was signed to a three-year deal, he was actually given a restricted free agent tenure. After being scheduled to take a visit with the Packers, the front office hammered out a three-year, $7.25 million deal.
Three years later, now on the wrong side of 30, but now also with an extensive body of work down on film, it’s unclear what sort of market the former undrafted free agent may find out there waiting for him.
Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle will be the fact that the Steelers simply have no other options at nose tackle other than McLendon, who knows the system extremely well. It is an offseason in which the defensive line depth is already hurting, so they will likely do what they have to do to keep one of their higher profile free agents, and it shouldn’t break the bank.