2016 Steelers Pre-Free Agency Positional Review: Defensive Tackle

We’re now into March, and that means that the new league year will be upon us shortly, and when that time comes, the floodgates to free agency will open—not that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be major players when it comes to signing outside free agents, as they tend to keep themselves busy in retaining their own players.

But before we get to that period, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ offseason roster as it appears to be shaping up as we hit the start of the new league year, at which time the team will have a couple of dozen players hitting the open market.

As with every other team, the Steelers have already made some roster tweaks, signing several players to Reserve/Futures contracts, tenders, and other sorts of contract, while also making some deletions after they waived a handful of players, so here is a position-by-position look at how the team looks heading into free agency.

Position: Defensive Tackle

Total Positional Figure: 4

Additions: 2

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Steve McLendon: Steve McLendon is the Steelers’ starting nose tackle until proven otherwise. Although he is now on the wrong side of 30, it’s not exactly like there is a ton of wear and tear on his body, even if he did battle a couple of injuries during his first two seasons as a starter in 2013 and 2014.

McLendon is not exactly the prototypical 3-4 nose tackle—and that’s part of the reason why he is a better fit for the Steelers in this day and age, when they play more in sub-packages than ever, by and large because they have a desire to do so, contrary to the claims that they would spend considerably more time in base if they had a better nose tackle.

His agility and footwork for the position are rare qualities among men of a larger size, but they make him a good fit for what the Steelers are looking to do upfront, especially when it comes to defending outside zone plays, although a more consistent presence as a pass rusher would be a very welcome development.

Daniel McCullers: Entering his third season, the gargantuan Daniel McCullers has far from solidified his place on the team—especially a team that is moving further and further away from the nose tackle. His work as a sub-package rusher has been discouraging this past season; one would expect greater and more consistent push with his frame.

Players Added:

Roy Philon: Former undrafted free agent Roy Philon spent an offseason with the Steelers a short while ago, but he struggled to find much work during training camp and the preseason. When he did see the field, he seemed a bit of a sparkplug, even if he is undersized for a traditional nose tackle—which may be to his advantage this time around.

Lavon Hooks: Despite reportedly turning some heads early on as an undrafted free agent, Lavon Hooks was part of the initial roster cuts for the Packers in 2015, and was out of the league until the Steelers recently signed him to a Reserve/Future contract.

Offseason Strategy: Re-signing McLendon is a no-brainer move to me. While he has been a starter for the past three seasons, he has had some injuries, is over 30, and has never established himself as much of a name player. I think his value in Pittsburgh exceeds his value outside of it, but they will let him hit the market anyway.

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