The biggest reason that so many people are bullish on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense for the 2020 season is because they have remained largely intact from last year. They have lost only a couple of players from the 2019 season on that side of the ball, some of whom were released, or had been demoted or otherwise lost their jobs.
The ‘largely’ part is significant, however, because they did suffer one big loss with Javon Hargrave signing a three-year, $39 million contract to play for the Philadelphia Eagles across the state. A fifth-year veteran, Hargrave was a menace to interior linemen, but the Steelers didn’t have the snap count or salary cap space to pay him, at least without letting Bud Dupree walk or doing something else that was drastic.
Cameron Heyward is the leader of this defense, and has been watching it grow and develop since 2011. Every single other defender who was there when he was first drafted has come and gone. He’s watched a lot of players grow. And he knows Hargrave won’t be easily replaced.
“It’s going to be tough” to do just that, he recently told Mark Kaboly of The Athletic during a phone interview. “Hargrave is a great player. He is a player who can play multiple positions and wasn’t just a nose tackle”.
In spite of the fact that Hargrave was a ‘nose tackle’, he became a starter in their ‘nickel’ front with the injury to Stephon Tuitt last year and saw a significant increase in his snaps. He averaged about 75 percent of the team’s snaps over the second half of the season.
“It’s up to the group to step up. This isn’t a one-man show”, he said in moving on from Grave Digger. “When you look at Tyson and Dan, those are two big pieces for us. They are guys who have been in our system for a while now and Tyson has played nose before. We dressed only four or five guys before so we have the flexibility. I have confidence in those guys. I know they are working their tails off right now. We just have to make sure everybody is ready when we get back at it”.
Other than the obvious, the Steelers return their entire defensive line that finished the season with them on the 53-man roster (not including L.T. Walton on injured reserve), and they also get the boost of a returning Tuitt. They acquired veteran Chris Wormley via trade, and also drafted Carlos Davis.
None of them have the skill set to just step in and do what Hargrave did, however. That’s why he just got $26 million guaranteed, the entirety of his compensation for his first two years.