While Pittsburgh Steelers fans wait with baited breath over any news about a potential reunion with tight end Jesse James, who was recently released by the Detroit Lions two years into a three-year contract that he signed in 2019, returning him to the team that drafted him, there is another player formerly donning the black and gold with whom a reunion suddenly makes a lot more sense.
After losing out on Tyson Alualu, who returned to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a two-year, $6 million deal, the team is probably looking for options for defensive tackle. Both Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis played there a bit last season—even Henry Mondeaux did—but somebody with a little more experience might be nice.
You don’t get any more experienced than Steve McLendon, who just won a Super Bowl ring with Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Now 11 years into his career and having turned 35 years old in January, the successor to ‘Big Snack’ would make a welcome return for perhaps one last hurrah.
The Steelers originally signed McLendon out of Troy as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He spent a good deal of his early period on the practice squad, bouncing back and fourth to the 53-man roster in 2010, before cementing his spot a year later.
When Casey Hampton retired following the 2012 season, it was McLendon who took over the job, and he did it ably for the next three seasons. Most anticipated that they would retain him, but he got a nice offer from the New York Jets and left in free agency in 2016.
The Steelers drafted Javon Hargrave that year, and he became a day-one starter, so all was well. But Hargrave, too, left in free agency last year. Alualu did a bang up job last year replacing him, but now they are once again back on the market in need of a part-time player to clog up the middle.
It might as well be McLendon, whom they know well—his former linemates Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt were already starting by the time he left—and who should come at a very reasonable price.
In October of 2019, the Jets signed McLendon to a one-year contract extension worth $3 million. A year later, also in October, he was traded to the Buccaneers, where he was part of a championship defense for the final nine games, contributing 17 tackles, including two for loss.
I would imagine he would come cheaper than that, maybe even for them minimum, which would come in at $1.075 million, plus an additional value of up to $137,500 they would be permitted to pay him on a Veteran salary benefit deal—and at a cap charge of $780,000 (plus whatever bonus he is given up to $137,500).
If he’s willing to play for that, then great. It’s a perfect match given each of their positions. McLendon is 35 and he’s got his ring. Maybe, like Alualu, he wants to come back and finish his career where he cut his teeth.
If not, maybe another former Steelers lineman, Al Woods, was recently let go, and would be happily welcomed back on a similar offer.