With Stephon Tuitt’s retirement, there’s been a lot of speculation about how the Pittsburgh Steelers will fill that void. Which outside free agent the team should be looking for. Frankly, I care internal guys a lot more. Moving on without Tuitt is a big blow, no doubt, but there’s still talent in this room and an outside name won’t drastically change the picture anyway.
But if you ask me, and I’ve gotten messages about this a dozen times already, who the team should consider, I’ll give you two names.
Kudos to Dave Bryan for suggesting this one. If that name sounds vaguely familiar to you, it should. Williams was drafted by the Steelers in the 7th round of the 2013 draft. He has shown the most stamina in this class and although his stay in Pittsburgh was brief, his career was revived in Chicago and, more recently, in Detroit . In fact, he started all 17 games for the Lions last season, although he rotated along their defensive line, recording just 55% of the team’s snaps, while his production was light, 27 tackles and one half bag.
He just turned 32 and that makes him older than the types of free agents the Steelers normally sign, even as we enter a new regime with Omar Khan and Andy Weidl. Williams would be a familiar face who can stuff the run and play 4i on run downs off base packages. He should have a minimum or near-minimum contract, something easily affordable for this team. If it doesn’t work, there would be little or no dead money involved.
If you want more than one “name” option, look at Richardson. He would be my personal choice. A former “pedigree” guy the Steelers have been so drawn to over the years, Richardson is a former New York Jets first-round draft pick. He’s played in different systems and worked in a 3-4 scheme with experience going up and down the line, something he’s done recently with the Browns and Vikings.
He can play end in the team’s front three and kick three techs into nickel and dime packages as an upside one-spread penetrator. He picked up 2.5 sacks for the Minnesota Vikings last season as part of their D-line rotation, playing less than 60% of total snaps on defense. In 2020 he recorded 4.5 sacks so there is still pass rush juice there.
Pittsburgh has seen it in recent years with Richardson spending the 2019 and 2020 seasons with the Cleveland Browns.
Last year, Richardson signed a one-year, $3.6 million contract with the Vikings. One more year and an early June signing should net him around $3 million this year, which Pittsburgh can certainly afford.
If you like the points connection, and we are, DL coach Karl Dunbar coached Richardson with the Jets in 2013 and 2014.
But at the end of the day, no matter who the Steelers bring, they alone won’t replace Tuitt. This defense as a unit, especially the front seven, needs to play better. No journeyman over 30 in June will solve all of the team’s problems or match Tuitt’s rare talent and athleticism. Pittsburgh must be more solid and technical than them. Linebackers need to get out of the blocks, they need to tackle better, and the young guys need to make big jumps, maybe sooner than expected. This is how this defense will become a respectable unit again, and not the hollow envelope it was in 2021.