We started this series with a little over 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 2019 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 15 primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed a number of them, those being Ramon Foster, Tyson Alualu, Anthony Chickillo, Daniel McCullers, and Jordan Berry. Significant unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and L.J. Fort. They re-signed seven exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, and Xavier Grimble, as they await Mike Hilton’s signing.
Also of note were the release of Morgan Burnett, the trades of Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert, and three significant signings in free agency, adding starters at cornerback, inside linebacker, and potentially wide receiver in Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and Donte Moncrief, respectively. Maurkice Pouncey also received a two-year contract extension.
Position: Defensive End
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 3
Offseason Deletions: 1
Cameron Heyward: Though his 2018 season wasn’t quite as ‘splashy’ as the year prior, Heyward continued to play at a high level, registering another eight sacks, the second-most in his career, and gaining consistent pressure as a pass rusher.
Stephon Tuitt: At a certain point it does feel as though Tuitt is never going to ‘put it all together’ and become the consistently dominant player his talent dictates that he can be. That said, he did have a good season with five and a half sacks, and most importantly, he cleaned up his play a lot, finishing more tackles.
Tyson Alualu: Alualu is a reliable number three who is arguably the best run-defender on the team; however, he doesn’t offer much in the pass rush, which can still be addressed.
Casey Sayles: Entering his third offseason, and second with the Steelers, Sayles was re-signed recently after spending time with the AAF. He was waived at the end of the preseason a year ago and was not retained on the practice squad.
Conor Sheehy: A typical 3-4 end from Wisconsin, Sheehy was signed to a futures contract after going undrafted last year. He spent the preseason with the Packers but was waived and did not stick elsewhere.
Winston Craig: Though listed on the team’s website as a defensive tackle, Craig will play end. Originally signed as a college free agent by the Eagles, he spent two offseasons there and then played in the AAF. He was signed just a few days ago.
L.T. Walton: Walton was not re-signed after completing his rookie contract. He spent almost all of 2018 as a healthy scratch after seeing his playing time diminish over the previous two seasons.
Notes And Draft Outlook: With the obvious qualifiers in mind regarding the fact that the Steelers spend most of their time in the nickel, and throwing in Javon Hargrave’s name as well, the reality is that they still need another end. And preferably one who can get after the passer. They have run-stuffing options in players like Sayles to compete, but Alualu already does that.