NFL free agency is right around the corner, and the 2022 free agent class is a strong one. Considering the Steelers will have more money than normal to work with in free agency, there are likely to be more roster moves than normal this March. With excitement raging among the fan base, it is time to take a closer look at which free agents the Steelers should consider signing.
Between now and March, I will be breaking down each position’s outlook in free agency, listing the top players at each position and determining which ones make the most sense for the Steelers. Today, we will be looking at a position group the Steelers will likely look to add someone at this offseason: defensive line.
As it currently stands, the Steelers have an estimated $34,018,712 to spend, and that number will likely grow. Potential cut candidates Joe Schobert, Zach Banner, Chris Wormley, Joe Haeg, and Derek Watt could free up as much as a combined $20,584,352 in the event each player was cut. It is true this team has plenty of needs, but it is encouraging to know several of these needs can be filled with quality free agent signings, thanks to the unusually large amount of cap space.
Let’s dive into the defensive line!
Here are the top ten free-agent defensive linemen based off 2021 Average Annual Value, per Spotrac.
Dante Fowler, Jr. — DE (Age: 27)
Calais Campbell — DE (Age: 35)
Jason Pierre-Paul — DE (Age: 33)
Akiem Hicks — DE (Age: 32)
Brandon Williams — DT (Age: 33)
Mario Addison — DE (Age: 34)
Ndomukong Suh — DT (Age: 35)
Linval Joseph — DE (Age: 33)
Jadeveon Clowney — DE (Age: 29)
Emmanuel Ogbah — DE (Age: 28)
The Steelers current depth chart along the defensive line is as follows:
Stephon Tuitt (under contract through 2022)
Isaiahh Loudermilk (under contract through 2024)
Carlos Davis (under contract through 2023)
John Simon (under contract through 2022)
Henry Mondeaux (under contract through 2022)
Delontae Scott (under contract through 2022)
Cameron Heyward (under contract through 2024)
Tyson Alualu (under contract through 2022)
Chris Wormley (under contract through 2022)
Khalil Davis (under contract through 2022)
Daniel Archibong (under contract through 2022)
Based on the current Steelers depth chart, the defensive line is likely to lose a good amount of depth by next offseason. Age is another factor, as two of the three starting defensive linemen are on the wrong side of 30.
Let’s take a look at who I believe the top three options are for the Steelers in free agency.
Hurst is a former fifth-round pick who fell in the draft due to concerns about his heart health, but he has silenced the doubters thus far into his NFL career, being a solid run defender as well as a consistent penetrator from the interior. However, Hurst seemed to be out of place when aligned as a 3-technique. That is primarily how he had been used by the 49ers and Raiders. Perhaps Hurst could reach that next level in his game if given a chance as a 5-technique in a 3-4 system, as his style of play makes him a better fit at that spot despite his lack of length.
If Stephon Tuitt makes a return, it is unlikely the Steelers make a major investment at this position, but Hurst is an sneaky good signing who would provide the Steelers with consistency and versatility. It is worth noting that he is coming off a calf injury that cost him most of the 2021 season, so it is possible that his price tag remains low in the short term.
The former Brown would not be welcomed with open arms by all Steelers fans, but Ogunjobi is yet another versatile defensive lineman who would fit what the Steelers have been trending toward schematically. Neither Javon Hargrave nor Tyson Alualu have brought prototypical size at the nose tackle position, but when the Steelers are playing their 2-4-5 defense and do not deploy a true nose tackle, it has not had a negative effect on the defense. Ogunjobi is one of the best interior pass rushers in this free agent class who would provide the Steelers with in-division experience. If both sides can mend the bridges that were destroyed in the Myles Garrett incident in 2019, this could be a match made in heaven.
Reed has failed to duplicate the 10.5 sacks he recorded back in 2018, but he is still a potent force as an interior pass rusher. I encourage you not to look too closely into PFF’s grades on Reed, as they have given him inexplicably low run-blocking grades in comparison to his actual performance. Reed is not known for his run stopping, but he has become technically sound in that area as he has developed, and he is far from the liability that some pundits suggest he is. He is coming off a one-year, $5.5 million deal with Kansas City, and I would expect his average annual salary to be in that same ballpark on his new deal.
Other possible signings: Akiem Hicks, B.J. Hill
Ideal scenario: Stephon Tuitt comes back for the 2022 season, Chris Wormley becomes a cap casualty, and the Steelers sign Mo Hurst to a two-year, $3.5 million deal as a security blanket.
Which defensive linemen do you think the Steelers should consider in free agency? Which names listed above intrigue you the most? Be sure to share your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for all the news you need leading up to free agency as well as the 2022 NFL Draft.