The NFL is a business. Players come, and players go. With new players being drafted each year, when the season ends each team’s locker room know that is the last time those exact players will be assembled together. It’s just how it works.
How teams respond to their losses in personnel are a big indication as to the development of other players who fans may not see their progression. If a team is quick to go out and find a replacement for a player who was lost, it tells you they are not comfortable with the other players at the position they have on their roster. If no move is made, then there may be something more there than what the fans realize.
The Steelers have two great examples of this within the last year. The first one happened just days ago when the Steelers released former All-Pro guard David DeCastro. Within hours of his release, the Steelers had signed Pro Bowl guard Trai Turner. If the Steelers had been confident in their other options at the position, they would have just rolled into training camp. Instead, the Steelers made the best move they saw as being available at this time in order to address the position.
An example from the other end of the spectrum comes from the Steelers nose guard position in 2020. After losing Javon Hargrave to the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency, there was a segment of Steelers’ fans who felt the team made a big mistake by not addressing the position either in the draft or through free agency. Instead, the Steelers chose to roll with veteran Tyson Alualu.
If you’re a Steelers fan and didn’t just wake up from a coma, you should realize Tyson Alualu had possibly the best season of his career in 2020. Although he did not have the sack numbers the Steelers lost in the departure of Hargrave, Alualu was a dominant force in the run game for the Steelers.
For those who put any stock in the player scores by Pro Football Focus, Alualu had the third-highest score (86.6) on the Steelers in 2020 only behind T.J. Watt (91.6) and Cameron Heyward (89.5). In fact, Alualu had a higher score than Heyward for a large portion of 2020 before missing time with an injury.
I could go on and on about Tyson Alualu and his great 2020 season. The fact that I believed he would be an adequate replacement before the season began does help a little bit, but part of the reason I had confidence in the Steelers’ decision was the fact that they made the decision.
In other words, I trust the Steelers to know what to do better than myself.
I know for some Steelers’ fans that’s hard. They like to make a massive list of everything that this team has done wrong and how they haven’t adequately addressed certain things. But this is the Pittsburgh Steelers that were talking about, and they get it right an awful lot. And when the Steelers don’t get it right, they have to answer for it. When we mess up what we think is the best for the team to do, we just roll on to the next talking point.
Now to finally get to the cornerback position.
The reason I believe Tyson Alualu gives hope for what’s going on at cornerback for the Steelers in 2021 is because of the moves the Steelers didn’t make. The Steelers chose to re-sign Cameron Sutton. The Steelers chose not to resign Mike Hilton. The Steelers also chose to release Steven Nelson. Steelers did not go out and sign another big-name player at the position.
Although the NFL salary cap went down for the 2021 season which could throw a wrench in things somewhat, I still believe the Steelers made moves accordingly based on what they thought they had on the roster. Perhaps the Steelers would have kept Steven Nelson had there not been a reduction in the cap. Maybe he wasn’t in their plans no matter the financial situation. All I know is the Steelers would not have made that move, and there’s subsequent other moves at the cornerback position, have they not had a plan based on the players they have on their roster.
In 2020, the Steelers didn’t panic and go out and throw a bunch of money at the nose tackle position. Even though they traded for Chris Wormley, he informed us here at BTSC in an interview that he was never asked to bulk up in order to play nose tackle. He was not the answer.
In 2021, the Steelers did not panic about the cornerback position. They didn’t even address it in the 2021 NFL draft, only with undrafted free agents. Instead, the Steelers chose to bring back Cam Sutton and let two other players go.
For me, I’m hoping that cornerback in 2021 is just like that of nose tack in 2020. I’m going to trust that the Steelers knew what they were doing and were (or weren’t) making moves appropriately.
Is it beyond reason to think the Steelers could bring in a cornerback in training camp or after roster cut downs if they don’t like how things worked out this preseason? Absolutely. But for now, the Steelers seem to be using their inside information from their own team to make a decision they believe will bring them success in 2021.