We started this series with less than two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed four of them, those being Le’Veon Bell, Justin Hunter, Stevan Ridley, and Daniel McCullers. The only unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere has been Chris Hubbard. They resigned nine exclusive rights or restricted free agents, from Fitzgerald Toussaint and Mike Hilton to Chris Boswell and Roosevelt Nix.
Also of note were the released of William Gay, Mike Mitchell, and Robert Golden, the three most veteran players in the secondary. The team has signed three outside free agents in Jon Bostic, Morgan Burnett, and Nat Berhe. Now we examine how these moves and their pre-draft hints shape their future based on position since the offseason has begun.
Position: Defensive End
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 0
Cameron Heyward: It had seemed since his third season in the league that it was an inevitability, but this past year Heyward finally silenced all his doubters with his 12-sack, first-team All-Pro campaign. While he was not initially voted into the Pro Bowl, he got there through the back door even though he was quite deserving of being voted in directly.
Stephon Tuitt: Despite his issues last season, Tuitt might still be the more talented defensive end on the roster. seemingly primed for a massive season, he suffered an arm injury on literally the second snap of the season, and injury that likely lingered throughout the year. He still needs overall to improve his ability to finish plays, but I wouldn’t characterize his 2017 season as typical. Heyward played through injury in 2016 and his performance suffered; look what he did the follow year.
Tyson Alualu: Inarguably, I think, one of the better Mike Tomlin-era free agent signings, Alualu came in and immediately improved his worth. Perhaps the best run-stopper on the defensive line, he stepped in and played major snaps due to injury. His pass-rush ability is less than ideal, but you can rely on him.
L.T. Walton: Last year was transitional for Walton, learning the nose tackle position on the fly, so he experienced a bit of a learning curve and had his struggles. I still like what he is able to do, though I’d like to see him play less in a 3-4 nose and more at end or in sub-packages.
Lavon Hooks: A former undrafted free agent who has been in the team’s camp for a couple of years, Hooks spent the year on the practice squad and, well, basically is hoping to do the same again. Perhaps he could hope to push one of the bottom of the roster players off, in a best-case scenario.
Casey Sayles: A bit short for the position at 6’3″, Sayles was an undrafted free agent last season, playing for the Rams, where he seemed to perform well during the preseason. He did not spend time with the team during the year. Signed to a Reserve/Future contract by Pittsburgh in January.
Players Deleted: N/A
Notes And Draft Outlook:
The Steelers have yet to make any moves this offseason on the roster beyond signing practice squader Hooks to a Reserve/Future contract, a player who has been around for a few years now. But they really don’t have to make any moves. Their top four players are as solid as any they’ve had since 2013.
Still, it’s conceivable that they would wish to add somebody here, especially considering both Alualu and Walton are in the final years of their contracts. The fact that Walton is also interior-capable also gives them some flexibility to take a more traditional end while keeping the fourth-year man inside, which would be disadvantageous to Daniel McCullers.