The rookie wage scale implemented by 2011 NFL Collective bargaining agreement was a game changer of epic proportions for the NFL. By locking in rookies to a set wage scale, it gave teams the chance to fix a large portion of their roster and salary cap costs.
- It also delivered a benefit to general managers who could draft players that could contribute immediately.
An impact player playing on his rookie contract is worth his weight in gold to an NFL team. The Steelers have perhaps had no better example of that than the experience of Javon Hargrave. A quick look at his career reveals why, as well as why such situations create bittersweet moments for teams and fans.
A Capsule Profile of Javon Hargrave’s Steelers Career
The Steelers drafted Javon Hargrave in the 3rd round of the 2016 NFL Draft, drawing uncharacteristic praise from John Mitchell, the Steelers legendary, but cantankerous, defensive line coach.
- Rookies (not named Casey Hampton) not only failed to start for coach Mitchell, they seldom played.
So Mitchell’s comments were a true eyebrow raiser. And true to form, Javon Hargrave started as a rookie and made an instant impact, making 2 sacks and 5 tackles from behind the line of scrimmage. He started strong, with the rest of the defense in the 2017, contributing to series of epic Red Zone stands against the Lions that yielded no points. Injuries limited Hargrave in late 2017, keeping him off the field at several critical junctures in the 2017 playoff debacle against the Jaguars.
- Yet, it was against the Jaguars in 2018 the Hagrave authored a statement game, showing that coaches needed to get him into the game more.
They did, and Hargrave delivered both in 2018 and in 2019, where Hargrave stepped it up following Stephon Tuitt’s injury, where Hargrave made 60 tackles, 4 sacks and dropped 7 players behind the line of scrimmage.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning Javon Hargrave
Former Steelers defensive coordinator Tim Lewis once told Jim Wexell that the health of the Steelers defense can be traced to the quality of play in its center, from nose tackle to safety.
- It is no coincidence that the Steelers won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII with Casey Hampton in the middle.
Javon Hargrave has shown he is more than up to the task. Moreover, he is versatile. Equally important, the Steelers don’t have an heir apparent but do have offensive needs galore in the draft.
Really, the Steelers have no choice but to keep Javon Hargrave in Pittsburgh.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Javon Hargrave
Sixty three percent. That is Javon Hargrave’s snap count for 2019 which takes into account his increased time due to Stephon Tuitt being on IR. Prior to that, he averaged about 46% of the defensive snaps. Assuming both Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt return in full health in 2020, it is hard to imagine Javon Hargrave’s time going up appreciably.
- And as a free agent, Javon Hargrave stands poised to claim the 2nd or 3rd richest free agent contract.
Javon Hagrave knows this. So does his agent. Hargave won’t accept a “home town discount.” Watching a player the Steelers drafted and developed leave is difficult, but you can’t pay everyone.
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Javon Hargrave
In a perfect world the Steelers would find a way to keep Javon Hargrave in Pittsburgh. But the world isn’t perfect, and the salary cap forces teams to make exactly these kinds of choices. In fact, the Steelers made one four years ago when they left Steve McLendon go.
- Expect the Steelers to follow suit here.
The Steelers simply have to accept that Javon Hargrave delivered excellent value on his rookie contract and be glad they can get a compensatory pick.