Tyson Alualu was an early first-round draft pick back in 2010. He is now continuing to play into his 11th season, and at the age of 33. Ordinarily, that indicates a player who has been dominant or a consistent starter for a long period of time.
That hasn’t necessarily been the former Jacksonville Jaguar’s path, but with Javon Hargrave having departed in free agency, he does have a bigger native role in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense in 2020, and at least through the first two games, he has succeeded in making the most of it.
Alualu started all 64 games in his first four seasons, but was reduced to a more rotational role over the next three years. There were even two games during his final season in Jacksonville in 2016 in which he was made a healthy scratch.
The Steelers signed him in free agency to be the top backup to Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, and thanks to the health issues of the latter, he has managed to play nearly 1200 snaps during that span, registering 102 tackles, 12 for loss, five sacks, a forced fumble, and three passes defensed in 12 starts.
This year, he is on pace to play over 500 snaps as he plays all over the defensive formation. He already has nine tackles, three for a loss, with a sack and a pass defensed, as well as a couple of good shots on the quarterback.
“I was always confident in my abilities”, Alualu told reporters yesterday addressing the bigger role that he has been given this year, his fourth in Pittsburgh. “I knew that I just wanted to be part of something special. We got off to a great start in 2017 with that team, and hopefully we can even take it the next step. Like I said, I’ve always been confident in my abilities, but I’m just being grateful for this opportunity”.
What does the future hold for him beyond this season? He will be turning 34 and is not under contract. The Steelers already have major salary cap issues, and they have three young and developing linemen in Isaiah Buggs, Carlos Davis, and Henry Mondeaux—while also trying to figure out whether or not they can keep Chris Wormley.
It would be a challenge to keep Alualu beyond anything much more than the veteran minimum, which in 2021 for his level of experience would be $1.075 million. But the good news is that is a problem for next year. Right now, we can just sit back and appreciate the fact that Alualu is playing at a high level in his new role, the only role that the Steelers actually had tot replace on defense.