When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed veteran defensive lineman Tyson Alualu two a two-year contract in free agency in 2017, they were really just looking for some valuable depth. They surely never realized just how much value he would be bringing to the table, now four years into his tenure with the franchise.
Originally a top-10 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he spent his first seven seasons there, gradually being phased out of a starting role, sometimes seemingly being asked to do things that are not to his strength. But he has been one of the most reliable defenders in Pittsburgh whenever he’s been on the field since he got here.
“Tyson, he’s a first-rounder, too. I think a lot of people forget that”, teammate Cameron Heyward said of one of the couple of players on the team who are actually more experienced in the NFL than he is. “He came from Jacksonville, and not many of us knew what he was bringing to the table, but he brings a level of consistency and veteran leadership along the way”.
Though he has always had a role as a core rotational player, Alualu has frequently been called upon to step up and start in the absence of Stephon Tuitt while he has dealt with injuries, which fortunately has not been an issue this season.
He played nearly 1200 snaps over the course of his first three seasons here, making 12 starts along the way. During that time, he compiled 102 tackles with 12 for loss and five sacks, plus a forced fumble and three batted passes.
This year, he took over the nose tackle job from Javon Hargrave after the latter departed in free agency. In 225 snaps played, he has 19 tackles, including three for loss, a sack, and a career-high four batted passes. His latest, against his former team, led to a red-zone interception by Minkah Fitzpatrick.
But the 11-year veteran isn’t just a contributor on the field. Heyward always credits him in playing a key role in nurturing and instructing the team’s young defensive linemen, the likes of Isaiah Buggs, Carlos Davis, and Henry Mondeaux—likely even Chris Wormley as well.
“Everyone likes to talk about, like, I lead, but to lead, you’ve got to have guys who relay the message and who are always in, who are a team player from the get-go, and I can say Tyson’s been that guy, a guy that’s been a rock for our group”, he said. “He teaches our young guys. I like to think I’m the bad cop, he’s the good cop most of the time. We have that relationship where we can be honest, and our messages are different”.
After four years, Alualu is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. He will be 34 years old in May. The Steelers will have a difficult time swinging any re-signings with their cap situation—chances are they will have to make a difficult roster cut or two—but given his contributions, one has to think that retaining him is a minor priority.