A very talented player retiring at the height of his skills is normally shocking, but unfortunately Stephon Tuitt’s decision was hardly a shock, even if many were growing cautiously optimistic that the Pittsburgh Steelers veteran would decide to return.
After missing all of the 2021 season, initially following a knee operation in early September and then never being activated, Tuitt spent the better part of the first five months of the year contemplating his future, and informed his teammates and the organization in recent weeks of his decision to retire. It’s left those who have worked with him and gotten to know him in a reflective mood.
“I’m just thankful to have been able to play with him when I did. Stephon was a great teammate, a great guy”, third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith told Ron Cook and Joe Starkey yesterday during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan. “I definitely wish I could’ve had more time with him”.
Highsmith was just a rookie the last time Tuitt lined up in a game, in 2020, and that was the best season of his entire career. He recorded career highs nearly across the board, with 11 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 25 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles, and three batted passes. This after missing most of the 2019 season.
It had seemed as though he finally turned the corner and put it all together—health being a crucial piece of that puzzle—and was gearing up for the year when he would break that barrier between ‘good player’ and ‘Pro Bowler’, but life had other plans for him and his family after a reckless driver claimed the life of his younger brother on June 2, 2021.
I’m not going to rehash once again everything that took place from that point in time through the remainder of that season, one, because we’ve beaten that horse to death, and two, because it no longer matters. All that’s left to do is wish him well as a newly-graduated member of the Notre Dame class of 2022.
“I know he’s gonna have a successful life ahead of him, just because of the man that he is”, Highsmith said of Tuitt. “I was just thankful to be able to be teammates with him and play with him as much as I did. I just wish nothing but the best for him and his family, and I’m definitely gonna miss playing with him on the field”.
It is unclear just how much the Steelers knew about Tuitt’s thought processes and when they knew it, and whether or not their plans this offseason were guided by that knowledge. What we do know is that while they didn’t sign any defensive linemen in free agency, they did use a third-round pick on DeMarvin Leal after no less an authority than team owner Art Rooney II said the defensive line was going to be a priority in the draft.