Moments after the Kansas City Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy Sunday night, attention in the NFL shifted completely to offseason mode, which includes free agency and the 2023 NFL Draft.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they’ve already been in offseason mode for more than a month, preparing for the draft and looking long and hard at their roster to determine salary subtractions, restructures and potential outside free agent targets.
One such outside free agent target could be Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, whom the Steelers selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Hargrave had great success in the black and gold for four seasons before bolting for the Eagles in free agency 2020.
Now though, he’s a free agent once again and is a popular connection for the Steelers, who desperately need to rebuild the defensive line under new GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl.
However, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox believes that the Steelers should “stay away” from Hargrave, 30, in free agency, opting for someone younger and cheaper.
A Pro Bowler in 2021, Hargrave had a strong 2022 season, finishing the regular season with 11 sacks, 18 quarterback pressures and 60 tackles for the Eagles as part of a deep, star-studded defensive line that helped them reach the Super Bowl.
Based on his performance the last two years, and the serious need for some infusion of talent on the defensive line in the Steel City alongside Cameron Heyward, a reunion would make a lot of sense for Hargrave and the Steelers, especially with veteran defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi headed to free agency after one season in Pittsburgh.
Knox cautions the Steelers to avoid Hargrave though, in large part, due to his potential financial outlook and age.
“Hargrave has a projected market value of $20.1 million annually, which is well outside of Pittsburgh’s realistic price range. He’s also unlikely to accept a team friendly offer, even if he did like the idea of a Steelers return,” Knox writes, reasoning why the Steelers should avoid him on the open market. “At 30 years old, Hargrave could be looking at his last opportunity for a significant payday. He won’t get it from the cap-strapped Steelers, and so he should be off their radar entirely.”
According to Steelers Depot’s own Dave Bryan, as of January 30 the Steelers are roughly $528k over the $224.5 million salary cap, which isn’t all that unexpected. Some financial decisions on Ahkello Witherspoon and William Jackson III could free up additional finances, as would restructures of Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt and Diontae Johnson, providing the Steelers some flexibility in free agency, should they choose to jump into that landscape.
Hargrave may be a bit out of their price range overall, but citing his age after having just turned 30 feels like a bit of a stretch.
Historically, yes the Steelers have avoided outside free agents 30 and older, but Hargrave turned 30 just six days ago and has had a relatively light workload in Philadelphia thanks to their depth along the defensive line and belief in rotating guys to keep them fresh. There’s obvious familiarity there with Hargrave and the Steelers, and a clear path for an elevated role in the black and gold, much like he had in 2019 after the Stephon Tuitt injury, allowing him to stay on the field throughout games as a three-down defensive lineman.
Ultimately, coming off of a career season, Hargrave might not be in the Steelers’ price range, but there is no clear and obvious reason to “stay away” from him like Knox tries to make the case for. He’s still a high-level player with a relatively light workload overall throughout his career, having played just over 4,000 career snaps in seven seasons.
There will certainly be a lot of interest there, but in the end I don’t see it resulting in a reunion between the Steelers and Hargrave.