The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers have to sign a starting nose tackle in free agency.
Explanation: For many, it’s a foregone conclusion that Javon Hargrave is going to sign elsewhere in free agency. The problem is, there’s really nobody else to take his place. Daniel McCullers has been with the team for centuries, but he doesn’t play, and it’s highly unlikely he would or should be trusted to take on a role asking him to play around 300-plus snaps a year.
Put simply, there isn’t a nose tackle for the way the game is currently played on the 90-man roster who won’t be an unrestricted free agent. McCullers could see an increase in snaps, sure, but not a lot. They would have to be limited to early run downs, because he offers almost nothing as a pass rusher when he actually gets into a game against a starting offensive line, as opposed to fourth-stringers at the end of preseason games.
And…oh yeah, there’s nobody else. Tyson Alualu and Isaiah Buggs are essentially ends. Buggs was considered a tweener who can play up and down the line when they drafted him last year, but the coaching staff asked him to lose weight, so they obviously don’t see him playing nose tackle.
They may be able to get somebody on the cheap, especially an older player like Al Woods, who’s been in Pittsburgh before. The Bengals’ Andrew Billings is a tempting name if he can be had within their budget. Danny Shelton is another name to consider.
First of all, Hargrave only played 300-plus snaps or so simply because he was good enough to justify it. If they don’t have that player, they’ll work around the problem and the nose tackle will be a less significant part of the defense. That’s not really a problem, in theory.
Secondly, let’s not forget that Hargrave was a rookie starter. They can draft somebody who can come in and contribute meaningfully right away as they work with the likes of McCullers and Buggs and Alualu to concoct some sort of plan for the very minor role that the nose tackle has become.
They can also make use of some four-lineman fronts, as they have done selectively in the past, to accommodate short-yardage situations. Alualu and McCullers would be the tackles.