The first week of free agency is in the books and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been extremely active in reshaping their roster. But activity isn’t always positive, as many teams that sign big-name free agents to big contracts they later regret eventually learn.
So how did the Steelers and first-time general manager Omar Khan do in free agency? Let’s hand out some grades for the Steelers’ 2023 free-agent class, starting with the re-signing of one of their own.
DT LARRY OGUNJOBI
Contract: 3 years, $28.75 million
2022 PFF Grade: 61.7
The player: B-
Ogunjobi came to the Steelers as damaged goods after he failed his physical with the Chicago Bears after agreeing to a big free agent deal with them last offseason. After his first season with the Steelers, it’s probably fair to call that description accurate.
The Lisfranc injury that kept Ogunjobi out of the stretch run in 2021 and caused his failed physical with the Bears didn’t keep him from playing, but a laundry list of maladies kept Ogunjobi from being a consistent participant in Steelers practices, and while he only missed one game, he ended up playing just 636 snaps, far less than running mate Cam Heyward’s 801.
That certainly impacted Ogunjobi’s production. He finished with 1.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits. That falls short of Heyward’s standard and also the one set by Ogunjobi’s long-term predecessor at the position, Stephon Tuitt. But it’s not all bad news.
Filling the need: A+
The Steelers had three of their top four internal options at defensive tackle set to hit free agency. Of them, Ogunjobi was the one to lock up. Chris Wormley suffered a late-season ACL and will miss most of the offseason. Tyson Alualu looked out of gas in 2022 and it would surprise no one if he retired.
The draft has some talent at the position, notable Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, a frequently-mocked first-round option. But there is not a plethora of available players. The draft bending one way or the other could keep the Steelers out of the mix at the position. They needed to address defensive tackle in some way in free agency, and did so with the most obvious option.
The value: C+
It being the obvious answer doesn’t mean it was cheap. Ogunjobi set the Steelers back $28.75 million. The good news is that his 2023 salary cap hit is small — just under $5 million.
But compared to the market, it feels like a bit of an overpay. DeMarcus Walker, playing in basically the same defense in Tennessee, had seven sacks, 10 tackles for loss and 16 quarterback hits in 2022. He went to Chicago on a three-year deal that cost just $21 million.
The Steelers needed to do something to shore up the position ahead of the draft, and they did just that. But they have to be hoping they find more production out of Ogunjobi going forward out of his contract than they got in 2022.
It won’t be an issue in 2023, but the final two years of the back-loaded contract might not ever happen if things don’t improve. This remains a position where the Steelers need both short-term depth and long-term solutions, with Heyward will be 34 before the beginning of the season. So work remains for Khan and company at defensive tackle.