Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers flooded Twitter with their enthusiasm on Monday when it was reported that former Los Angeles Chargers edge rusher Melvin Ingram had signed a one-year contract with the team. The national media, in mindboggling fashion, immediately criticized the move, somehow forgetting that OLB Alex Highsmith is on the roster and ready for a breakout year. They assumed that Ingram was expected to be a starter. While it’s possible, I don’t think that’s the expectation for a player coming off a rocky season where he landed on IR not once, but twice.
Let’s go back to the beginning briefly for an overview of Ingram’s injury history. Drafted by the Chargers in 2012, Ingram played all 16 games and even started one as a rookie, recording 42 total tackles including 27 solo, one forced fumble and one sack. Then he hit some speed bumps.
- He tore his left ACL in the team OTAs in May 2013 and was expected to miss the entire season. Instead, he made his return in Week 15 and produced both a sack and a forced fumble in the final 3 games.
- In 2014, his third season, he was again derailed by injury, this time a hip. He was assigned to IR/Designated to Return after the third game, which meant he couldn’t return for seven weeks. He resumed play as soon as he could be cleared and made it through the final seven games of the season.
- After shedding 20 pounds in the offseason of 2015, Ingram’s luck finally changed. He played all 16 regular season games in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, coming into Pro Bowl form and a dominant force for the Chargers defense.
- In 2019, it was a Week 4 hamstring injury that slowed him down and kept him out of three games in October of that season. This turned out to be good news for third-string QB Devlin Hodges, who led the Steelers to a win in LA.
- 2020 was the pass rusher’s toughest year. He sustained a knee injury in Week 2 against Kansas City, which landed him on IR on September. With the new COVID-inspired rules, he was able to return three weeks later. He actually wasn’t ready for action until Week 7. Once back on the field, he flashed signs of his old form but was sidelined once again after five games, finishing the final year of his contract on IR again.
Ingram visited with several teams recently, choosing Pittsburgh. He seems to be fully recovered from the challenges of last year. But what is his potential for reinjury?
- He is completely recovered from his ACL tear eight years ago. This is a non-issue for me, even considering the statistical mildly increased risk of an ACL tear on the other knee.
- The hip injury, which was never really described in detail, is also ancient history for the three-time Pro Bowler. Not a cause for concern.
- Likewise for the hamstring injury from 2019, which appears to have been a one-and-done situation. It shouldn’t be a factor going forward.
- Which leaves us with the knee injury from 2020. When free agents have surgery in the offseason, it usually isn’t reported. First, because the athlete isn’t obligated to do so. Second, because it can hurt his chances for a new contract or impact guaranteed money, there is nothing to gain by making that information public. So we don’t know if Ingram had surgery once his time with the Chargers was up last winter. It almost doesn’t matter, though. If he had surgery back in December or January, he should be fully healed and ready to go for training camp. And he would have to pass a physical before getting his new contract anyway. So my guess is that Melvin Ingram is in the best shape he can be (note Joe Haden’s recent tweet about Ingram getting ripped in the gym), and it seems he comes to the Steelers with a clean bill of health.
If both Highsmith and Ingram can start and compete for that role, that would be a very good problem to have. But I expect the 32-year-old veteran was signed for depth with the plan to be in the rotation each week. And with this addition to the roster, the OLB group certainly seems ready to get after opposing QBs this season.