The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted Steve McLendon back. Presumably, McLendon wanted to stay with the team that gave him a shot to play in the Super Bowl as an undrafted rookie free agent. But the price was not right for either side on a busy day of free agency that saw the New York Jets sign Steve McLendon to a 3 year 12 million dollar deal.
After Kelvin Beachum, who signed also signed with the Jaguars today, Steve McLendon represented one of the Steelers biggest question marks heading into free agency. While defensive coordinator Keith Butler is making changes to the Steelers defense, a big part of the franchise’s defensive philosophy is stopping the run to force 3rd and longs.
- And you need a solid nose tackle to make that happen.
Casey Hampton did that masterfully for over a decade, and Steve McLendon had done well as Hampton’s successor. In an earlier era, a new contract for McLendon would have been a no-braier, and probably would have come right after William Gay and Ramon Foster’s deals in terms of priorities.
- But the Steelers defense is evolving.
Perhaps Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review said it best:
McLendon may be worth 4M a season to some teams but not Steelers and how they use NT
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly) March 15, 2016
Steve McLendon only played in about 1/3 of the Steelers defensive snaps in 2015, as their use of “sub packages” eclipsed their traditional reliance on the standard 3-4 alignment. By all accounts, the Steelers were upfront with McLendon about what they were prepared to offer him, and encouraged him to test the market. McLendon found a taker in New York.
- Make no mistake about it, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and defensive line coach John Mitchell are taking a real risk in letting Steve McLendon go.
Daniel McCullers would look to have the first shot at replacing him, and 6’7” and 357 pounds he clearly has the frame clog up the middle. But McCullers did make much of a leap between 2014 and 2015 and that leaves the Steelers exposed.
Moreover, even if McCullers does deliver, the Steelers defensive line depth is thin. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are as fine a tandem of defensive ends as you’ll ever see in the NFL, but behind them the Steelers essentially have L.T. Walton. There had been rumblings that the Steelers were interested in bringing Al Woods back, but Woods will stay in Tennessee.
The Steelers will look to defensive line in the draft, but don’t be surprised to see them begin working out free agent defensive tackles.