Player: Ricardo Mathews
Position: Defensive End
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2016 Salary Cap Hit: $600,000
2016 Season Breakdown:
It’s somewhat fitting that we are covering Ricardo Mathews’ free agency status right after tight end David Johnson. Both of them are coming off of two seasons with the Chargers. Both are seven-year veterans. Both signed one-year veteran-minimum qualifying contracts with the Steelers last year with no signing bonus.
Other than the fact that both of them are relatively fringe candidates on the roster, and that they are both scrappy workers, however, the comparisons largely end there. Johnson also, of course, spent several years with the Steelers earlier in his career.
The Steelers brought in Mathews in order to secure some much-needed depth for their defensive line, and by and large, he did provide that, although an injury late in the season did prevent him from playing the sort of role that the team would have liked to see him have due to injuries with other players.
He still was active for all 16 games during the regular season even though he was highly limited for some, and he did miss the first two playoff games before briefly returning for the AFC Championship game, during which he did not record a statistic in limited snaps.
During the regular season, he recorded 14 total tackles in addition to notching a sack, which came against the Giants. His role expanded significantly after Cameron Heyward was injured, and he recorded eight of his 14 tackles in the first five games following Heyward’s last.
Still, it must be pointed out that by the end of the season, the Steelers coaching staff seemed to value second-year former sixth-round pick L.T. Walton more and more, more specifically in the 3-4 front and in running situations, as they valued his discipline more, seeing Mathews as the option that was superior as a pass rusher.
Free Agency Outlook:
Unlike a certain other former defensive end that they acquired from the Chargers, I do believe that Mathews fits into what the Steelers are looking to do along the defensive line, and if he is willing to return on another veteran-minimum contract, or even a very modest two- or three-year deal, the team would be happy to have him back.
Should he be re-signed, however, it will probably have to battle with Walton for a helmet on game day, as the Steelers typically only dress five defensive linemen, including three defensive ends and two nose tackles.
Walton made significant strides last season and was legitimate in the running as the most improved player on the roster, playing a greatly expanded role in a year in which he could have been a game day inactive all season.
One thing that we clearly learned in 2016, however, is that there is never anything wrong with having depth at the defensive end position. Re-signing Mathews is one route that they can take in replenishing the well, though they could pursue other options.