The Pittsburgh Steelers have been a team ‘on the cusp’ for a long time now, seemingly, and it remains unclear just when, or if, they will be able to get over the hump, or what it will take to get there. Based on their drafting and free agency patterns, it would seems as though they believe the biggest problem has been on defense.
With the additions of Devin Bush, Steven Nelson, and Mark Barron, plus the additional development of young players such as T.J. Watt and Terrell Edmunds, might 2019 finally be the year in which the defense is more part of the solution than the problem?
Pro Football Focus took a look at the Steelers’ defense recently heading into this season and commented on a number of players. One of the players that they singled out for discussion was fourth-year defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, whom they argued could be in his last season in Pittsburgh.
“Hargrave was just as effective as Heyward and Tuitt” against the run, the article reads, “finishing with 27 stops — four more than Tuitt and two less than Heyward. All things considered, Hargrave has been playing at a starter-caliber level and will be in a contract year in 2019. The Steelers might be getting their last year out of the former South Carolina State product”.
That’s not to mention that he also had a career-high six and a half sacks last season, which can largely be attributed to his increased opportunities in the nickel and dime defense, from which he recorded all but two of his sacks.
The Steelers do a better job than most—and a much better job than some—of retaining their own quality homegrown talent, but we all know that some of them do eventually get away. With major dollars already committed to Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, it may be hard for the team to justify getting an extension done with Hargrave this offseason before he is able to hit unrestricted free agent in 2020—and they certainly are not going to tag him.
Hargrave has spent his three seasons in the league growing into a very nice, well-rounded player, proving and then some that coming from a small school should never have been a concern for him at the scouting level. He dominated his competition because he was just that good.
But there will be other contracts coming up, soon enough. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner would be due for extensions in 2020, for example. They still have to figure out what they are going to do with Sean Davis and Joe Haden, both of whom are in the final years of their deals.
Can a defensive tackle like Hargrave fit into their plans when they already have two players along the line like Heyward and Tuitt? That’s between the front office and coaching staff to decide.