It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
We’ll be suspending the Stock Watch series during this time, at the end of which we should have more meaningful topics to discuss once we resume, since a lot more news about free agency and its ripple effects should be current by then. In the meantime, we go back over the current makeup of the team’s roster, and assess where they are strong, or weak.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 2
Javon Hargrave: Injuries gave Javon Hargrave more opportunities to play in 2019 than ever before, and he made the most of it, putting up career-highs in most statistics, though not sacks, but he still managed four of those, and has more than 10 over the past two seasons. The former third-round pick in the 2016 draft has clearly played his way into a seven-figure salary—with another team.
Daniel McCullers: A former sixth-round picks from roughly 100 years ago, McCullers has somehow managed to stick around for quite some time. And there is a not unrealistic possibility that he is your ‘starting’ nose tackle in 2020 because of Hargrave’s departure. They literally don’t have any other nose tackles on their roster right now. To his credit, he has slightly picked up his game since Karl Dunbar was hired as defensive line coach.
First and foremost, while there are only two defensive tackles on the roster—not including Cameron Heyward, who is officially listed as a defensive tackle for technical reasons—a conversation about defensive tackles in a 3-4 defense in this era would not be complete without also discussing the defensive ends.
That is because today’s football is played primarily out of sub-packages, which generally consists of two down linemen, with the ends kicking inside to what is essentially a tackle role, with the outside linebackers serving as the ends.
In other words, Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Isaiah Buggs are all a part of this discussion to some degree, or at least for the majority of Steelers football. But for our purposes, we do have to focus on the role of the true defensive tackle in the 3-4 front with three down linemen.
And the team is going to be dealt a huge blow in that department when Hargrave leaves in free agency, which as long been taken as a given. They simply don’t have the salary cap space nor playing time to justify trying to retain him compared to what he will get on the open market.
That leaves the team with only McCullers, going into his seventh season and with a $1.5 million base salary in 2020, among the true defensive/nose tackles. In other words, it becomes a priority to address this offseason.
If they are able to make any outside free agent signing when the new league year begins, the addition of a defensive tackle somewhere along the line would have to be seen as a top candidate. I would start looking for them to draft one as early as the compensatory third-round draft pick as well.