Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, Daniel McCullers returns. This time on a two-year contract. Evidently, Karl Dunbar and the Pittsburgh Steelers saw enough out of the work that he put in, not just on the field but in practice, to believe that he could continue to contribute as valuable depth to their defensive line.
In fairness, the former sixth-rounder is coming off the best season of his career, even if his playing time remained scarce. He did show growth in this game, which was obviously most evident in the preseason when he was getting more opportunities to actually show that.
Still, I can’t help but wonder whether or not the decision to re-sign him—and not some other free agent—was at least in part fueled by the necessity that the team retains the balance of its free agency losses versus gains.
In order to qualify for any compensatory draft picks, a team must lose more qualifying free agents than it signs. Right now, the Steelers have signed two and lost three, with Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and most recently, L.J. Fort finding new deals with other organizations.
The Steelers would be in-line for a third-round compensatory pick for Bell right now. But if they were to sign a backup defensive tackle for a contract that would qualify the Steelers for seventh-round compensation, the total number of losses and gains—three for three-would cancel out any compensation, as it has been explained to me. But this is really a digression from the point.
The point is, McCullers is back, and that means that now the team only has to fill one spot along the defensive line after having previously re-signed Tyson Alualu to a two-year contract as well. They served as the gameday active reserves last season behind starters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and Javon Hargrave, all of whom recorded at least five and a half sacks last season.
It’s difficult to determine whether it was internal or external motivation that was the biggest factor in McCullers showing better this past season and earning some security in a two-year deal. He talked last spring about the growing reality that he was at a pivotal point of his career that would decide whether or not he had a future, and that drove him.
But the introduction of Dunbar as the new defensive line coach, replacing the longtime John Mitchell, also seemed to be a positive influence for the big man, as he also talked about in retrospect. Dunbar seemed to be able to get more out of him. Perhaps he simply didn’t respond to Mitchell’s more stern methods.
Still, at least it fills a need, and there are worse things than having McCullers on the roster. the Steelers can now worry about drafting one defensive lineman—and it could even potentially be one who sends him to the bench as an inactive, if he’s versatile enough to rush the passer and play nose tackle.