The Pittsburgh Steelers very nearly lost starting nose tackle Tyson Alualu in free agency this year. The longtime veteran actually agreed in principle to sign with the team that first drafted him, the Jacksonville Jaguars. But testing positive for COVID-19 prevented him from traveling to take a physical and sign the contract.
The time spent in quarantine gave him the period of reflection he — and his Steelers teammates — needed to get him to change his mind. He decided not to sign with the Jaguars, and to sign the contract Pittsburgh had previously offered him, as it was reported that they did not up their offer.
“It was a little stressful during that time”, he admitted while speaking to reporters earlier today, regarding his free agency decision. “Just because me and my family knew that we wanted to stay in Pittsburgh, and we weren’t reaching an agreement. It just kind of felt in my mind, I guess, it was a better option, to get more money and to go back to Jacksonville, where it started”.
According to reports, the Jaguars offered Alualu a two-year, $6 million contract. He agreed to come back to Pittsburgh on a two-year, $5.5 million deal, which included a little under $2 million in guarantees, for a total of $3 million in cash for 2021.
“Fortunately, it didn’t work that way”, he added. “I got COVID, and got more time to think about wanting to stay in Pittsburgh, and talk to some of my teammates here, and decided to switch over. But it’s nothing that Jacksonville did to change my mind. It’s just because I wanted to be here in Pittsburgh. That’s just kind of worked out”.
A former 10th overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Jaguars, Alualu spent the first seven years of his career there, starting 87 of 110 games. He never missed a game due to injury during that time, but Jacksonville sat him as a healthy scratch for two games his final year there.
After watching his role continually get reduced, he decided to sign with the Steelers in free agency in 2017, agreeing to add to the depth of their defensive line behind stalwarts Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, and a young Javon Hargrave.
The latter signed his big contract with the Philadelphia Eagles last offseason, which gave Alualu the opportunity to have a more consistent and prominent role in the defense, moving inside to the nose tackle position when they are in their 3-4 front.
He drew rave reviews for his performance as a nose tackle last season, finishing with 38 tackles, including four for loss, with two sacks, five hits, a forced fumble, and five passes defensed. His play did suffer a bit following a late-season knee injury against the Baltimore Ravens, but that should be well in the past.