Player: Tyson Alualu
Position: Defensive Line
Experience: 11 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2020 Salary Cap Hit: $3,625,000
2020 Season Breakdown:
How often does a player in his 30s who plays in the trenches have the best season in his career? I’m guessing it’s not overly frequent, but that is what we saw from Tyson Alualu in 2020 for the Pittsburgh Steelers, which also came with a shift in his role.
A former first-round pick for the Jacksonville Jaguars all the way back in 2010, Alualu originally signed with the Steelers to serve as a rotational player in 2017. He filled that role admirably over the course of his first three seasons, also as a spot starter.
But when Javon Hargrave left in free agency and Alualu was moved to the nose tackle role, he took to it like a duck to water. Not that it was something that was entirely new to him, but the take on that role on a full-time basis, it clearly suited his skill set.
With four tackles for loss, two sacks, and five passes defensed, the big man was clearly having an impact, but it was his routine run defense that was most notable. I have been saying for the past couple of years at least that he may well be the best run defender on the team.
That was certainly the case during the 2020 season, and the difference in their performance before and after Alualu suffered a knee injury, I think helps to make that pretty clear. He’s never going to be a dynamic pass rusher, but that gets somewhat overshadowed when he is inside at nose tackle.
Free Agency Outlook:
Alualu’s most recent contract was for two years at just under $6 million in total, roughly the same as the first deal that he signed in Pittsburgh, so essentially playing for about $3 million per year over the course of the past four years.
But the Steelers are in a serious salary cap crunch this year. While I strongly suspect that he has no interest in playing anywhere other than Pittsburgh, it might be the case that he will have to accept a one-year veteran contract, which could get him near the $3 million mark, but would come with a salary cap bonus for the team.
Even though he is approaching his mid-30s, there was nothing in his performance, at least prior to his injury, to indicate that he is on the decline. Nevertheless, it may be best for both sides at this point to move forward on one-year contracts, which is not uncommon for players at a similar stage in their career, even if it is possible for him to be able to play for a few more years.