As of the time of this writing, the Pittsburgh Steelers have already lost three players in unrestricted free agency. The latest was B.J. Finney, striking a two-year deal with the Seattle Seahawks reportedly worth up to $9.5 million. The most surprising was the two-year deal signed by Tyler Matakevich with the Buffalo Bills that was reportedly worth up to $9 million.
The biggest, but also the most expected, departure was Javon Hargrave, who after four seasons of being underutilized as a 3-4 defensive tackle, agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract to join the Philadelphia Eagles and plug up the middle alongside the great Fletcher Cox.
Originally a third-round draft choice in 2016 out of the small-school South Carolina State—the alma mater of Donnie Shell—Hargrave dominated his level of competition at the college level, and then showed that he could compete at the highest level as well.
It was a foregone conclusion that a 4-3 team who could offer him a significantly bigger role would also lure him with a bigger contract. Nevertheless, it was not a parting that either the Steelers or Hargrave were looking forward to, and the latter bid his farewell to Pittsburgh via Instagram yesterday.
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Thankful is an understatement @steelers . Being able to play for your childhood favorite team doesn’t happen to everyone and for that, I’m forever grateful. I loved it here and I am blessed to have been apart of this amazing organization. To my teammates, turned brothers, I love you boys and continue to leave your mark. Steelers nation, supporters and fans, you’ve been nothing but amazing🙏🏾
The 27-year old started 52 of 63 games over the course of his four-year career with the Steelers, amassing a little over 2000 snaps, including a career-high 680 last season. He had previously been averaging about 450 snaps per season prior to that.
He finishes his tenure in the black and gold having racked up 168 tackles, including 22 for a loss, with 14.5 sacks, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles (one of which was returned for a touchdown, last season), and one fumble recovery (which was fielded in the end zone for a score).
Hargrave was at his best last season with more opportunities, finishing the year with 60 tackles, plus the forced fumble and four sacks. He had a career-high of 6.5 sacks the year before, though he was equally successful getting after the passer in 2019.
With the Steelers already paying two defensive linemen eight-figure salaries on average per season in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, it would have been very difficult to fit in Hargrave’s salary or justify it alone, regardless of the fact that they simply don’t have the places to get him on the field when the team is healthy.
As a 3-4 defense, the Steelers’ base nickel defense consists of a front four of two down linemen in Heyward and Tuitt supplemented by the outside linebackers, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Under normal circumstances, Hargrave is watching the game from the sideline for long stretches. Prior to Tuitt’s injury last season, he was only averaging 35 snaps per game through the first five weeks.