It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with 19 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Two other important players have retired, so there is more shuffling of the deck than normal in Pittsburgh.
Position: Defensive Tackle
Total Positional Figure: 3
Tyson Alualu: After a decade in the league, Alualu shifting inside to nose tackle in a 3-4 front and had arguably the best season of his career. He was great in particular at stopping the run, a consistent theme throughout his four years with the Steelers, though a late-season knee injury took something out of him. A pending free agent, he can hopefully be retained on a one-year deal
Carlos Davis: A seventh-round rookie, Davis did well simply to make the 53-man roster, displacing veteran Daniel McCullers for a roster spot. As the season went on, he even worked his way up the depth chart and ultimately dressed for seven games, playing 47 snaps and finishing with six tackles, including one for loss.
Isaiah Buggs: Buggs is the player who got the short end of the stick with Davis’ ascension. He entered the season as the backup nose tackle to Alualu, though he didn’t play a significant amount, but as the season wore on, he started to become a healthy scratch in favor of Davis. The two even had a minor sideline scuffle at the end of the season, almost surely related to playing time opportunities.
For out purposes, while Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt spend most of their time in a nickel sub-package in which they are defensive tackles, and Heyward is formally classed as a tackle, we are viewing them as ends relative to the Steelers’ base scheme, because they would not line up at nose tackle in a 3-4 front as the above players would, and have.
The conversation pretty much begins and ends with whether or not they can cheaply retain Alualu, which should be manageable on a veteran qualifying contract, which can pay him up to nearly $2.5 million (he has spent the past four years on deals averaging $3 million per season) while only accounting for about half of that against the salary cap.
The interesting thing to watch this offseason is how Davis can develop, because he is a talented and athletic player. If he can harness his abilities, then he can evolve into a valuable contributor and potentially even a future starting nose tackle who is capable of playing in sub-packages as a defensive tackle.