Most would agree the defensive side of the ball is the glaring weakness of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and there are a number of free agents on the team's current defense who may or may not be brought back in 2016. There are many factors which impact potential free agents and their future with the team. Their current contract, depth at the position along with expectations for the future within the organization.
Today, we talk about the Steelers defensive line free agents, a position which lacked true depth this season forcing Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt to be the players to shoulder the load along the defensive line.
Steelers Defensive Line Free Agents:
Steve McLendon - 3/4 DT - $2,416,667 (Current Salary)
Cam Thomas - 3/4 DE - $2,000,000
Clifton Geathers - 3/4 DE - $825,000
Before talking about the three players along the team's defensive line who are free to go elsewhere next season, it is important to talk about who will be returning at the position next season. Clearly, Heyward and Tuitt are the rightful starters to the defensive end positions, but other than those two only L.T. Walton, entering his second year as a pro, remains from the team's 2015 depth chart.
Of the three players set to become free agents, the name at the top of the list is clearly the most attractive. Although many write off McLendon's capabilities, he has shown versatility to play end as well as nose guard. McLendon, and the nose tackle position, has been nullified by sub package football dominating across the NFL landscape, but watch the Steelers' divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos and you can see the importance of McLendon in run support.
Other than McLendon, the combination of Thomas and Geathers will likely be given the chance to find employment elsewhere. If they come up empty, the Steelers might have a spot for them, at the right price, on their depth chart. Many of these decisions come down to the team's stance on Daniel McCullers. McCullers enters his third NFL season, and would be the incumbent nose tackle to fill in for McLendon if he leaves for another team. If the Steelers aren't overly pleased with McCullers' progress, they could make a strong push to bring back McLendon.
Prediction: The Steelers will let Thomas and Geathers walk, unless they want to re-sign at the right price. They should try to bring McLendon back into the fold and hope he can work on becoming more of a versatile player at the end position. McLendon could help spell Tuitt and Heyward in sub packages, and his run stopping ability is certainly needed on the defensive side of the football. His salary becomes a concern, and the Steelers might see him find more money elsewhere. The last time McLendon was in this position he entertained a visit with the Green Bay Packers which ultimately led to him staying in Pittsburgh.
Keeping McLendon would be a great keep for the Steelers in free agency. If they fail to do so it would leave a huge gap along an already depth-starved defensive line.
Previous Free Agent Breakdowns: