The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Do the Steelers have enough ammunition among 3-4 defensive ends to ignore the position in the draft?
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a depth crisis along the defensive line, and they are well aware of it. The coaches have talked about it. The front office has talked about it. Even the players have talked about the need for the team to have quality depth along the line that can take snaps to help preserve the starters for the playoffs.
Pittsburgh has parted with its two biggest contributors behind the starters in nose tackle Steve McLendon, who signed with the Jets, and Cam Thomas, who remains on the market. In their place, thus far, the team has added only Ricardo Mathews, a role player for the Chargers last season.
But it is important to note that Mathews, who in spite of playing nearly twice as much as he did in 2014 was less productive, was only given the absolute minimum that a player of his stature can be offered, which is veteran-minimum without a signing bonus. It is rather rare for the Steelers to sign a player without even a modest signing bonus.
That strongly indicates, as should be obvious, that his status for the 53-man roster is far from a lock. But neither is that the case for the team’s two young defensive ends, L.T. Walton and Caushaud Lyons. In spite of the fact that he spent the entire season on the 53-man roster, Walton was only ever active in the games in which a lineman was injured, and his play even at those times was sparse.
So if there are no reliable answers among those already signed to a contract, and the team is highly unlike to add another free agent lineman at this point, then that would have to mean that an answer will have to come through the draft.
The Steelers are down two contributing linemen, to the tune several hundreds of missing snaps, on top of even more snap slots that they would like to fill. Which means that they may very well be looking to add not one, but two linemen during the draft.
And this would be the draft in which to do it, given the depth that is available along the defensive line, which is not something that we have seen every year. The Steelers tend to take advantage of what the draft pool offers, increasing the likelihood that they may be targeting both a defensive tackle and a defensive end in the draft in order to compensate for the lack of capable bodies currently on the roster.