The 2022 NFL offseason has been filled with uncertainty. Often, football fans have been left in a world of speculation and wonder.
Would Aaron Rodgers return to Green Bay, or force a trade to a preferred destination? Would Tom Brady retire, and would he stay that way if he did? Finally, would Deshaun Watson face criminal charges, and how would the answer to that question affect his career moving forward?
We now know the answers to those questions, and many more. The Pittsburgh Steelers faced a plethora of questions heading into the offseason, and they have already found numerous answers and potential solutions in the first two weeks of free agency. One huge question remains unanswered, and the answer greatly impacts the direction of the remainder of the Steelers offseason.
What does the future hold for Stephon Tuitt and the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Rumors abound that Tuitt has been around the facilities over the past month or so, leading many to remain hopeful of a triumphant return to the black and gold this season.
Steelers General Manager (GM) Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin have spoken recently on multiple occasions concerning Tuitt, all but confirming the aforementioned rumors. Colbert implied at the beginning of free agency how Tuitt had expressed a desire to return, but Tomlin reiterated he remained hopefully Tuitt would make a healthy return to the team this season.
At this point, I am afraid "hopeful" just isn't going to cut it.
Nobody knows what the future holds, or if Tuitt will be able to show up for training camp when late July rolls around. However, the universal truth could be uttered about any player on the roster. No one can say with complete certainty their availability, but they can definitely confirm their intentions.
Last offseason the unfathomable tragedy Tuitt and his family had to endure, and the corresponding absence his overwhelming grief caused, caught the franchise completely off guard. It seemed the franchise expected Tuitt to return at various points of the season, to the point they failed to address the huge hole created by his absence prior to the trade deadline.
Now, Colbert and the Steelers have no excuse for being caught unprepared. As the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
The Steelers know all too well Tuitt's impact on the defense, especially the run defense. The Steelers have the remainder of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft to strengthen their defensive line, and acquire talent to provide insurance against injuries and absences.
What the Steelers really need is some semblance of commitment from Tuitt about his intentions for the 2022 season. It doesn't have to be a blood oath, simply an honest assessment from Tuitt about his intentions. If he is still incapable of making any type of commitment to the team, that should tell the Steelers all they need to know.
The Steelers have to address their lack of talent, particularly young talent, across the defensive line. Cameron Heyward is coming off the best season of his career, suggesting he is still in his prime, but he is closer to the end than the beginning. Tyson Alualu is going to be 35-years old at the start of the 2022 season, and is coming back from a season-ending lower leg injury. The third member of the best starting defensive line in the NFL in 2020 was Tuitt, who just so happens to be the biggest question mark on the Steelers defense at the moment, outside of possibly who will be manning the strong safety position this season.
Even prior to last season, Tuitt hasn't been the gold standard for reliability. He has dealt with frequent injuries, which has caused him to struggle at times to play up to the level his talent would suggest. He finally put it all together in 2020, and easily enjoyed his best season.
Truthfully, there is a high probability it will take some time for Tuitt to knock the rust off and get back up to full speed in 2022, especially after missing a full season of action. If he will ever get back to a performance level necessary to justify his current salary cap hit is anybody's guess. Especially if his heart just isn't in it anymore.
The Steelers have a couple of talented young rotational players in Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Loudermilk as defensive line depth, but the jury is still out on what they can potentially become. There are numerous free agents still available, especially proven run stuffers, but the majority are rather long in the tooth. They could be useful one year stop-gap players, and insurance to cover for Tuitt's unpredictability, but they won't do anything to lower the Steelers average age across the defensive line.
Now for the good news. The 2022 NFL Draft class of defensive linemen are versatile, talented, and unusually deep. There are conceivably starting caliber defensive lineman to be had through the first four rounds of the draft, and talented projects available in the later stages. While every prospect is not a great fit for the Steelers schematically, there are plenty who would look awesome in black and gold.
Regardless of what level of commitment the Steelers do or don't receive from Stephon Tuitt in the near future, they can't get caught with their pants down again. The Steelers have to address their aging defensive line in this draft with an infusion of youth and talent.