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: Tyson Alualu will be the Steelers’ starting nose tackle in 2021 as well.
Explanation: With the loss of Javon Hargrave in free agency, the Steelers got a bit creative in replacing him by moving Tyson Alualu to nose tackle, where he has played at a high level, particularly against the run, through three weeks, doing so at the age of 33. He is not under contract beyond this season, for which he is earning almost $3 million.
Alualu has taken like a fish to water the move inside to nose tackle. His strength has always been his technique, positioning, and run defense, so his natural abilities have aligned well with the decision. The only real question was whether or not he was big enough to endure the rigors of the snaps played inside.
But with fewer and fewer nose tackle snaps to be had, it’s not so much of a demand. And he is doing more than just playing nose tackle. He still rotates at end and plays in sub-packages. But they are even playing more against 11 personnel in ‘base’, in part because they like what Alualu is doing.
When you like somebody that much, you keep him around. Alualu has been in the system for four years and has been very underrated. It’s also not uncommon for defensive linemen to be able to play well into their 30s.
The salary cap has to be considered here. Alualu was signed to a two-year, $6 million deal in 2019. Can they even afford to offer him a similar deal with their salary cap situation in 2021? With so many other free agents that also need to be considered?
The most immediate alternative is second-year Isaiah Buggs, who has been playing some snaps as the fifth lineman and the number two nose tackle. In the pipeline is the young Carlos Davis, a rookie. What they see from these two will go a long way toward determining how they view Alualu in March in light of the salary cap.
And there’s always the possibility that he chooses to retire as well.