The Steelers let one of their best players go during the 2020 offseason, and you better believe they still think about what could have been with Javon Hargrave.
Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. That’s never been more true than it has in the case of the Pittsburgh Steelers and defensive tackle, Javon Hargrave. Since the 2020 offseason, this team has had to live with the regret of their decision to let him walk away from the organization, and it stings now more than ever.
At the time, the Steelers made the only choice they could. Cameron Heyward was under a big second contract, and Kevin Colbert had already inked Stephon Tuitt a massive five-year contract extension that he had signed in 2017. Simply put, Pittsburgh didn’t have the cap space to hand out another lucrative contract to a third interior defender.
As it would turn out, the Steelers gave this money to the wrong player… though we didn’t know it at the time. I loved Stephon Tuitt. For years, I thought he continued to be one of the most underrated players on the team. Tuitt was part of a rare breed of tall, long defenders who specialized in stopping the run, but also was good enough as a pass rusher that he never had to leave the field.
In each season that he was healthy, Tuitt managed to play between 76-89 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps — and he was good at his job. Tuitt continually graded out as one of the better interior defenders in the NFL, via Pro Football Focus. However, these past seasons have no doubt forced the Steelers to live with regret.
Steelers would have kept Hargrave if they could do it over
While nobody from the organization has come out and said this, I have little reserves that the Pittsburgh Steelers would have extended Javon Hargrave — not Stephon Tuitt — if they could do it over again.
In addition to not playing in 16 games since his rookie year in 2014, Tuitt’s final season came at the age of just 27 in 2020. In this year, he recorded 11.0 sacks, 10 tackles for a loss, and 25 quarterback hits, via ESPN stats. It was finally the breakout season we had been waiting for. Sadly, Tuitt would sit out the entire 2021 season following the death of his younger brother, and would later announce his retirement from football.
During this time, Javon Hargrave was tearing it up with the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2020, he earned his first Pro Bowl after a 7.5-sack season. Now through the first 8 games of 2022, Hargrave has recorded 6.0 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss, and 8 QB hits.
While he simply isn’t the same run defender as Tuitt, Hargrave has emerged as one of the best interior pass rushers in the NFL and has been a key component in assisting the Philadelphia Eagles to become one of the best teams in the league.
Still 29 years old, Hargrave seems to be getting better with age (much like Heyward did with the Steelers). Over his past two games against the Steelers and Texans, he has combined to record a whopping 5.0 sacks to go with 4 tackles for a loss, 5 QB hits, and a forced fumble, per ESPN. He’s been an absolute wrecking ball on arguably the league’s best defensive line this year.
Hargrave and Tuitt played different roles for the Steelers, but we knew at the time that they could only afford to keep one of them. Now Pittsburgh simply has to live with the regret of letting a cornerstone player walk away in 2020.