The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Whichever two of the Steelers’ top eight defensive linemen as currently projected (or one, if seven are kept) who do not make the 53-man roster will be safely retained on the practice squad to start the season.
Explanation: Sorry for the topic statement being a mouthful, but it’s basically this. You have seven linemen coming back from last year, plus rookie Isaiahh Loudermilk. Six (or less likely, seven) of them will probably make the 53-man roster. Of the other one or two, one might assume that the Steelers will one to keep the remainder on the practice squad, as they did with Daniel McCullers at the start of the 2020 season.
For starters, the report earlier this month that the league is heading toward retaining some of last year’s COVID-19 changes, including the expanded practice squad, makes it easier to carry eight total defensive linemen. That’s a major point in their favor.
Of the top eight linemen—Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux, and Isaiahh Loudermilk—the top four are pretty much locks. At least one of Davis and Buggs is a safe bet, too. It would be an upset if Loudermilk didn’t make the team as well.
That would leave Mondeaux and one of Davis and Buggs to filter to the practice squad, if six are kept on the 53-man. Mondeaux already started last season there. It’s reasonable to entertain not only their desire to retain him, but also the likelihood that he could be retained. Davis is more likely to make the team than Buggs based on how last season ended. I’m not sure there would be a big market for a third-year sixth-round pick who fell out of favor a year ago.
There are two parts to this question: One, the desire for the Steelers to retain certain players, and two, their ability to safely stash them on the practice squad without getting claimed off waivers, or wanting to sign to another team’s practice squad instead.
Neither are guaranteed. Mondeaux was primarily called up mid-season due to special teams needs, which presumably will not exist at the start of next season. It’s equally as likely that other teams have interest in him, though. As it is that the Steelers might not be interested enough to retain him, especially if they only intend to carry seven total defensive linemen.
The Steelers do have a bit of a history of having linemen (both offensive and defensive) getting claimed off waivers. They still have a seventh-round pick, Nick Williams, kicking around the league after having once been signed off the practice squad. Josh Mauro is another who went on to have a career after being poached.
And would they want to sign with Pittsburgh when they have such a deep defensive line? It’s entirely reasonable to wonder if they wouldn’t rather sign with another team’s practice squad, with whom it would be more likely that they eventually get called up. Players are not required to sign to a team’s practice squad after they’re released if they don’t want to.