It’s quite possible that Javon Hargrave has already stepped on a football field for the final time as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Nobody knows this as well as he does, himself. The former third-round pick will see his rookie contract expire at the start of the new league year in March, at which point he will become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
And at which point he will likely sign a high-value contract with another team, for multiple reasons. For one thing, the Steelers don’t have a lot of cap space, and their priority re-signing is Bud Dupree. For another thing, they already have Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt earning top dollar along the defensive line.
And then there is the simple reality that playing in a 4-3 defense would give Hargrave more opportunities than the Steelers’ 3-4, so a 4-3 team is more likely to be willing and able to give him a high-value contract.
All of this only finally began to really sink in for Hargrave toward the end of the Steelers’ regular season finale against the Baltimore Ravens—perhaps because it wasn’t certain before then that there wouldn’t be another game to be played this season.
“I didn’t really think about it until basically time was running out”, he told reporters, via Brooke Pryor of ESPN. He said that a lot of his teammates began to come up to him to acknowledge the situation and express appreciation for him. “That’s when I really just thought about it and just took it all in”, he said.
While he also said that it’s about more than money and that the Steelers are like family to him, that he loves being here and is comfortable here, as we always hear whenever money is involved, he finally allowed that “at the end of the day, it’s business”.
We’ve seen good men go before simply because it made better sense for both parties financially to go in other directions. Arguably the most notable in recent years was Kelvin Beachum, who tore his ACL in 2014 and allowed for the emergence of Alejandro Villanueva just as the former was hitting unrestricted free agency.
Even though he typically was not an every-down player, still, Hargrave is going to be hard to replace, and likely the Steelers will have to rely upon multiple people to handle that job, similar to how they relied upon multiple people to make up for the loss of Tuitt in 2019 after his injury.
The business side of the game is never fun, but it’s just as integral to everything we write about here as the on-field play, because without it, the game wouldn’t exist. I’d love to write about Hargrave for the next six-plus years if given the opportunity, but I understand that’s unlikely—as does he.