Tuesday was just as busy as Monday for the Pittsburgh Steelers. As of this writing, the team has reportedly re-signed two of their own pending free agents in S Damontae Kazee and DL Larry Ogunjobi. Though numbers aren’t in on Kazee, it’s safe to say Ogunjobi got the bigger deal, three-years at more than $9 million per season and over $21 million through the first two years.
Should he stay or go? I was as mixed on Ogunjobi as I was any of the Steelers’ pending free agents. Without him, there was a clear void along the defensive line, just Cam Heyward and a bunch of question marks. But Ogunjobi was a hot-and-cold player in Pittsburgh. Was that a product of him adjusting to a new system? Battling a toe injury throughout the year? Or just who he is?
It was hard to say. And knowing he would want a long-term deal after seeing one fall through with Chicago last offseason, it makes him something of a risky play.
Ogunjobi’s 2022 reads like a Dr. Seuss book. Larry Ogunjobi was good. Larry Ogunjobi was bad. Larry Ogunjobi was good and bad. He had impressive moments, showing power with his club move, burst off the football, and some flat-out dominant reps. Like this one, walking this Atlanta Falcons’ center five yards deep, shedding, and making the tackle. That’s one of the best reps from any Steeler this entire season. Honestly.
But his plays hit the other end of the spectrum, too. Tougher performances against the Baltimore Ravens, who ran all over him and the rest of the Steelers’ defense. Though he generated a moderate amount of pressure, his sack production cratered from seven in 2021 to 1.5 in 2022 despite ample opportunity.
Judging his year is made more difficult by the injuries he battled. He was eased into practice during the spring and summer after coming off his winter foot injury. He was hampered by a toe/knee injury throughout the year, routinely missing practice and showing up on the injury report. It’s fair to say that impacted his play to some degree.
So which Ogunjobi will Pittsburgh get? We’ve seen him at his best and something closer to his worst. And that’s the deciding factor. If he can stay healthy and play closer to his peaks than valleys, he’ll be worth the money Pittsburgh’s paying him. But my worry is his ability to do that and stay healthy throughout the three years of his new deal, or at least the first two where it’s harder and more painful to get out of early. Especially knowing he’s soon approach his age-30 season and he’s already faced a long list of lower body injuries. Not every d-lineman can age as well as Cam Heyward.
No doubt Pittsburgh backed themselves into a bit of a corner here. The d-line room would look empty without him, especially after Chris Wormley’s torn ACL created more questions about the future of the unit. This draft class has attractive names but select few strong scheme fits for Pittsburgh’s specific system. The risk of missing out on those guys or feeling obligated to take them on draft day is something the Steelers always look to avoid. External free agent options were a choice and maybe this team will add one, but it would’ve invited equal risk of the unknown outsider. And to be clear, depth is still a worry and should be addressed later in free agency or the draft. Or both.
Ogunjobi has flashed his talent. He runs hard to the ball, he’s a good athlete, he plays with power, he’s scheme versatile. He just has to put it together for a full season, especially now he’s received that long-term payday he’s been fighting for. The Steelers can’t afford for him to wilt, they can’t miss on this contract.