The Pittsburgh Steelers identified Larry Ogunjobi as a potential long-term starter along their defensive line when they re-signed him this offseason to a three-year contract. He wasn’t coming off the best season of his career, but the team and those around him believe that was aberrational and that going forward he will look closer to his prior form.
You can include NFL analyst Brian Baldinger in that group, who was a fan of the Steelers’ decision. “Ogunjobi is just an explosive player. I think it was a good re-signing”, he told Ron Cook and Joe Starkey last week on 93.7 The Fan. “They needed somebody next to Cam (Heyward) who can really push the pocket and I think he’s proven that when healthy he’s really good like that”.
That became a critical need when Stephon Tuitt retired last year in the middle of the offseason. It’s unclear what or how much the Steelers knew in advance, or how far in advance, but he announced his retirement on June 1, the day that future proration is allocated differently afterward and not accelerated into the current season’s cap.
Ogunjobi has spent his entire career in the AFC North in spite of the fact that he has been with three different teams. He was drafted in the third round in 2017 by the Cleveland Browns, where he spent his first four seasons. He then signed a one-year deal in 2021 with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Bolstered by a career-high seven sacks that year, he initially parlayed that showing into a three-year, $40.5 million deal with the Chicago Bears. They rescinded the offer, however, after failing him on his physical due to a foot injury he suffered in the playoffs.
That is the only reason the Steelers had the opportunity to sign him in June when they suddenly found themselves in need of a starter—and why they were able to get him on a one-year, $8 million deal. They paid a high price to re-sign him this offseason at nearly $10 million per season, but that’s a relative bargain compared to what the Bears nearly signed him to.
If Pittsburgh really does get Ogunjobi at his best over the length of this deal, then it will have been money well spent. He is explosive, as Baldinger said, and capable of playing both the run and the pass. He has a somewhat limited arsenal but knows how to use his combination of his power and athleticism.
Even with Ojunjobi signed for the next three years, many feel the Steelers should prioritize the defensive line in the upcoming 2023 NFL Draft. In spite of the fact that Heyward had another Pro Bowl season last year with double-digit sacks (10.5), the inescapable reality is that he is nearly 34 years old. And the only person who never loses is Father Time. So who knows? Perhaps three years from now it will be Ogunjobi lining up opposite a player who will be a rookie this year in the starting lineup.