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 will miss Javon Hargrave more than they realize in 2020.
Explanation: Not that there was much that they could have reasonably done to afford to keep him around—short of converting to a 4-3 front—but Javon Hargrave was undeniably a big part of the Steelers’ defense, and their biggest loss in free agency in years, arguably with Le’Veon Bell, relative to what they have to replace him.
The Steelers have two great, stout defensive linemen who are elite at both rushing the passer and defending the run in Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. But they can’t be on the field for 2000-plus combined snaps. And at least one of them is inevitably going to miss time due to injuries—likely Tuitt, since it’s happened every year since 2015.
While Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley are nice pieces to have as reserves, neither of them are going to offer anything close to what Hargrave brings in the pass rush, and there’s nobody else who can be a pass-rush specialist either.
Then there is the problem of nose tackle. Daniel McCullers is not a starting nose tackle who should be on the field for 300-plus snaps a season. And we honestly don’t know if Alualu is capable of taking on that role on a full-time basis, either. We just don’t know that until we see it.
Part of the premise here lies in an evaluation of who much the Steelers anticipate missing Hargrave. Just because they didn’t re-sign him doesn’t mean they didn’t understand that his was a big loss. It was. But it was the most pragmatic option.
When it comes to the pass rusher, they have four who are very good at it in Heyward and Tuitt, and then T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Perhaps Alex Highsmith and emerge as somebody able to contribute as well. Should one of those players go down, as Tuitt did last year, they can compensate with blitzing, something that Keith Butler has done very effectively. One ‘weak’ link in a front-four pass rush, as long as he is gap-sound, is not going to make or break them.