Can the Steelers Afford to Lose Another Defensive Lineman?
Oct 7, 2012; Pittsburgh , PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon (90) hits Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (7) as he fumbles the ball during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 16-14. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
According to Scout.com and Ravens Insider Aaron Wilson, Steve McLendon, a defensive lineman, visited the Green Bay Packers. Now, the Steelers have the right to refuse to match the offer sheet, if one comes, but I wondered in McLendon’s absence would make a difference with as many holes as there are already to fill.
McLendon is a 6’4” 280 pound defensive tackle. He’s been in the league for 3 years and 2012 is the first year he played in all 16 games; however, he didn’t start any of them. During 2012 he had 4 solo tackles, with 7 combined, 2 sacks and 1 forced fumble. McLendon was tendered at the lowest level, which suggests the Steelers think he wouldn’t be hard to replace if he left for a better offer. I know that some thought that with consistent playing time, McLendon could be a better playmaker. There are some rumors that if McLendon stays he could go to nose tackle to replace Casey Hampton. Hampton’s numbers are a little better in the tackle department: He started 16 games and had 11 solo tackles for a total of 26. However, Hampton hasn’t had a sack since 2010. At this point, if the Steelers want to retool the defense, I’m not sure either of these players makes a big difference. Since the defense seemed to have such a rough season last year (even though they were ranked first), it is hard to decide if McLendon’s numbers are low because of reasons beyond his ability to play.
If McLendon leaves, what then? Well, if you look at the defensive depth roster the Steelers have posted, there is no one listed at Nose Tackle. They seem to have good depth at Cornerback and even the safeties look in better shape even though no one knows if Troy Polamalu will ever be able to play a full season again. Don’t throw too many spears at me Polamalu faithful – It’s a legitimate concern. So, can the Steelers find some help in the draft? Maybe, but I’m sure they don’t want both NT’s to be rookies. I also wonder what the Steelers have left to work with in salary. I’m not convinced that letting McLendon go is the right move, but they lowballed his salary and if he can get something better with another team, you can’t be surprised that he walked away. It’s a business and team loyalty only works when it is on both sides and that is rare. You would have thought that there would have been some with Hines Ward or James Farrior, but there wasn’t room to spare anyone’s feelings when it came to business. McLendon ranks much less on the totem pole; he hasn’t built a Steeler identity like Ward, Farrior, or even Harrison. The fans won’t be upset if he goes, from an emotional standpoint. However, I’m not convinced that the Steelers can afford to lose any more experience at this point or it will truly look like a rebuilding year. I can’t say that McLendon is a lynchpin that the success of the season hangs on either. I’m just beginning to wonder what the method to the madness is. The frantic push to get under the salary cap seems to throw some other decisions, like managing veterans versus youth and experience versus fresh perspective, under the bus.
Since teams have until tomorrow to make offers to the unsigned Restricted Free Agents, I guess we will have a better idea where the holes are soon. Something has not felt right about the moves the Steelers have made during this off season. Maybe once I see how everything shakes out, I will be able to put my finger on it, but frankly I’m not terribly optimistic for a better than 500 season in 2013.