There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum hundreds upon hundreds of new players under the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: NT Daniel McCullers
Roster Vulnerability: High
Role Vulnerability: High
The Steelers made the late decision to bring back nose tackle Daniel McCullers on a one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract after he pretty much spent the 2017 season on the bench. The four-year veteran was demoted to third-string nose tackle during the summer and was a healthy scratch for most of the year, dressing only when there were injuries.
I think it’s fair to say that the decision to go with L.T. Walton as the backup nose tackle was as much about McCullers as it was about Walton. While they generally prefer that their fifth defensive lineman (and the final gameday active) have versatility, the big man they call Shade Tree would have been the backup nose tackle if the coaching staff felt it was deserved. Walton had not previously even played nose tackle.
I think most people probably assumed that the Steelers were just going to move on from him altogether, but he and several other fringe players were re-signed to be given the opportunity to at least compete for a roster spot. He should be considered among the most vulnerable.
Pittsburgh no doubt realizes that Walton is probably not a viable long-term option to play at nose tackle behind Javon Hargrave. They have already established the belief that McCullers isn’t either. A late-round pick such as Josh Frazier would make a ton of sense, especially if you connect the dots with new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
To put it simply, McCullers is at very high risk in terms of his future with the team depending on what happens in the draft. If they draft any lineman at all, there’s a very good chance he is not going to make the team.
His best hope is the fact that John Mitchell is not his position coach anymore. Dunbar will be a fresh set of eyes for him to try to impress. Those who still believe he can be a force if only the team would play him can hang their hats on that fact for now.