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 enter the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve and other non-active lists.
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: DT Daniel McCullers
Roster Vulnerability: Low/Medium
Role Vulnerability: Medium
McCullers is in a better position now than he was a year ago, putting together the best offseason of his career and actually dressing for games. All of that led to the team signing him to a new two-year contract, though that doesn’t buy him much security.
McCullers’ deal is far from unbreakable, a two-year, $2.5 million contract that included a signing bonus of $250,000. So that’s what it would cost the Steelers against the cap (while saving $875,000) if the big man doesn’t make the 53-man roster.
In 2017, ‘Shade Tree’ hardly even dressed, let alone played, as L.T. Walton had surpassed him as the team’s preferred backup defensive tackle because he was also capable of playing defensive end. Under new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, however, the roles flipped once again, Walton sitting on the bench and McCullers dressing. Still, he hardly played, ultimately registering five tackles and a sack after having just one tackle the year before.
Last season, the Steelers drafted former Dunbar pupil Joshua Frazier in the seventh round, but the rookie made little impact and didn’t even stick onto the practice squad. Frazier even had minimal impact during his time with the AAF and has yet to be signed to another roster this offseason.
So the team could potentially address the defensive tackle position again in this draft, but the complication is that they still have an opening at defensive end as well with Walton not being re-signed. While they do have players like Lavon Hooks and Casey Sayles, neither are necessarily even locks to make it into training camp, let alone to dress and play in September.
The ultimate prize would be a pass-rush-capable draft pick who also has inside-outside versatility, which would largely make McCullers obsolete. Still, the fact is he’s been here for five years already and is on a two-year deal. They obviously like him more than we sometimes acknowledge, so it would hardly be a shock if he sticks around.