After the retirement of Stephon Tuitt became official, many fans and analysts alike were already scouring the free agent market for potential replacement options that the Pittsburgh Steelers should consider. While some names like Nick Williams and Sheldon Richardson make sense, others that were brought to the forefront didn’t really match the Steelers system to play that base 3-4 DE that could kick inside in sub packages.
While free agency is one avenue that Pittsburgh could consider utilizing to account for the loss of Tuitt, the option to trade for a player on another player’s roster also should be considered. Given that Pittsburgh already carries six defensive linemen that figure to make the roster in Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, and DeMarvin Leal, the probability of Pittsburgh trading for someone prior to the regular season may be slim.
Still, Pittsburgh has shown a willingness to trade for players at a position of need in the past that they had previous interest in or that are entering contract years at positions of need like Justin Gilbert, Vance McDonald, J.J. Wilcox, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Joe Schobert.
Thus, it is plausible that Pittsburgh may look to add someone from another organization this summer, should the price be right. For this exercise, I will list several names that could make some sense for Pittsburgh to target in a potential trade to beef up the defensive front. Three of the names will address the defensive line while three other names will address the EDGE position given the lack of proven depth behind entrenched starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. So, sit back, grab your popcorn, and let’s dive on in, ladies and gents.
Ravens EDGE Jaylon Ferguson (age 26)
Normally, suggesting that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens could agree in a trade inside the division would be shot down immediately. However, we saw such a trade occur just two years ago when Pittsburgh acquired DL Chris Wormley from the Ravens for a fifth-round draft choice. Ferguson is the exact same age as Wormley was when he got dealt to Pittsburgh and is entering his final year on his rookie contract. Ferguson also was a former third-round pick by the Ravens just like Wormley, dominating the college game at Louisiana Tech by posting 45 sacks and 67.5 TFLs during his college career. Still, after starting nine games his rookie season, Ferguson has only played 434 snaps since in 2020 and 2021 combined.
With Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser as the projected starters and Baltimore selecting David Ojabo in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft, Ferguson is likely facing his final season in Baltimore as a backup/rotational player. Given the lack of depth at the OLB position and the likely cost of a conditional late round pick to take Ferguson off the Ravens’ hands, he presents an intriguing option that could push Genard Avery for EDGE #3. Despite hardly playing at all last season, Ferguson did have ten starts, 4.5 sacks, 13 TFLs, and two forced fumbles in his first two seasons. Should Pittsburgh not be sold on the guys they have in-house, Ferguson is a guy with pedigree that likely could be had on the cheap.
Colts EDGE Ben Banogu (age 26)
A similar story here with Colts EDGE Ben Banogu like Ferguson who has found himself buried on the Indianapolis depth chart. After being selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of TCU where he posted 8.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons to close out his college career, Banogu contributed as a rotational pass rusher as a rookie, playing 271 snaps and recorded three TFLs, 2.5 sacks, five QB hits, a PBU, and a forced fumble. In the last two seasons combined, Banogu has played a meager 168 snaps on defense, recording only eight total tackles with no TFLs or sacks. Sitting behind Kwity Paye, Yannick Ngakoue, Dayo Odeyingbo, and Tyquan Lewis, Banogu is at danger of not making the roster altogether.
Pittsburgh could see if Banogu gets cut during training camp rather than parting with a 6th or 7th round selection for him, but the price would be minimal to acquire a player that they should interest in back during the pre-draft process, bring him in for a pre-draft visit. He also matches the athletic profile the Steelers look for in EDGE rushers, standing 6034, 250-pounds with 33 5/8-inch arms with a 4.62 40, 40” vert, and 11’2” broad. Given the pedigree and former interest, Banogu could be had for pennies and come in to push Avery, Tuzar Skipper, and Derrek Tuszka for the backup EDGE spots and serve as a rotational pass rusher.
Bears EDGE Jeremiah Attaochu (age 29)
More on the older side of things, but still under the age 30 mark, Bears EDGE Jeremiah Attaochu is another name that could help bolster the depth of the OLB position behind Watt and Highsmith. A former second round pick by the Los Angeles Chargers back in 2014, Attaochu starred at Georgia Tech, sacking the QB 31.5 times during his college career, becoming the school’s all-time sack leader. Standing at 6’3, 262lb with 33” arms and a 4.58 40, Attaochu hasn’t developed into a full-time starter in the league, but has become a capable rotational pass rusher, posting 20.5 sacks and 31 TFLs while jumping around with the Chargers, Jets, Broncos, and Bears.
With a $2.45 million base salary in 2022 and a $3.1 million cap number according to Over The Cap, Attaochu could be an affordable option that could be acquired from Chicago who is going through a clear rebuild and has already jettisoned several veterans. With Al-Quadin Muhammad, Trevis Gipson, Robert Quinn, Mario Edwards Jr, and rookie Dominique Robinson all in the fold, the asking price for Attaochu should be no more than a conditional late round pick or pick swap for Pittsburgh to acquire him. He would be able to provide more experience and that athletic prowess to get after the QB when Watt or Highsmith need a breather as a capable EDGE3 or EDGE4.
Jaguars DL Adam Gotsis (age 29)
Switching over to the defense line, more specifically, the defensive end for Pittsburgh. One name that matches what Pittsburgh looks for from a size/length perspective is Jaguars DL Adam Gotsis. Another former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket, Gotsis stands at 6’4, 287lb with 34 1/8” arms and 10 3/4” hands, fitting the mold of a Steelers 4i technique. He was drafted in the second round by the Denver Broncos back in 2016 and has since started 46 of 89 games played in the NFL for the Broncos and Jaguars. Being more of a run defender than pass rusher, Gotsis hasn’t topped 56% of the snaps in any season and has 173 total stops, 19 TFLs, eight sacks, 16 PBUs, and three forced fumbles on his resume.
Given the new coaching staff in Jacksonville and the fact that Gotsis has Roy Robertson-Harris, Dawuane Smoot, Jay Tufele, Malcom Brown, and Folorunso Fatukasi on the depth chart, the soon-to-be 30-year-old likely would be seen as expendable. He carries a base salary of 1,035 million in 2022 with a cap hit of $1.435 million according to Over The Cap, meaning he could be a cheap rotational piece that could give meaningful snaps as a run defender while serving as a guy that can push the pocket and get hands up in passing lanes as a pass rusher. Depending on where Pittsburgh is at on the development of Loudermilk and Leal, Gotsis could be had for a likely low price and play meaningful snaps upfront.
Dolphins DL Adam Butler (age 28)
I remember watching the New England Patriots defense several years ago and watching Adam Butler tearing it up along the defensive line thinking “who the heck is this guy?” Butler is a former UDFA out of Vanderbilt in 2017 that made the roster after a productive preseason. In four seasons with the Patriots while playing both as a nose tackle and base DE in their scheme, Butler appeared in 63 regular season games with 12 starts, recording 96 tackles, 20 TFLs, 27 QB hits, 15 sacks, 12 PBUs, and one forced fumble. He signed with the Miami Dolphins last offseason, rotating in on 53% of snaps and posted 17 stops, two TFLs, two sacks, and three PBUs.
Butler has the size/length profile the Steelers look for at DE, standing 6’5, 295lb, but also has experience lining up as a nose tackle. He plays with impressive pursuit of the football, possessing good play strength and explosiveness. With Zach Sieler, Raekwon Davis, John Jenkins, and Christian Wilkins all on the DL depth chart for Miami, the Dolphins may feel like they can move on from Butler given his $4.15 million cap number ($3.41 base salary) in 2022 for being a rotational player. His numbers dipped a little last season, but Butler has proven to be productive both as a run defender and pass rusher inside when given the opportunity in New England.
Given the scheme fit, his talent and age, and the ties he has to Brian Flores who coached him both in New England and in Miami, Butler could be a player that lesser known in terms of name value but could provide solid play upfront compared to more well-known options on the trade market or in free agency.
Commanders DL Daron Payne (age 25)
Let me preface this by saying the following: I am not saying that the Steelers are actively going to attempt to acquire Commanders DL Daron Payne. There, now that’s out of the way, let me share why this move could be plausible, while still being the least probable of all the options listed.
First, Pittsburgh undoubtedly took a hit upfront with the loss of Tuitt to retirement. Second, Payne has expressed his displeasure for a lack of a contract extension from the Commanders who are loaded along the defensive front, having already re-signed Jonathan Allen to a big extension and have the likes of Chase Young and Montez Sweat they also need to account for re-signing. Third, Washington spent high draft capital on another Alabama DL Phildarian Mathis in the 2022 NFL Draft, selecting him in the second round when they clearly had other pressing needs to address on the roster.
Daron Payne’s name is often mentioned in trade rumors, but he has far more value to WFT on the field than on the trade market. In 2021 Payne led all interior DLs in defensive stops while finishing in the top 12 in total pressures & PFF pass rush grade. #WashingtonFootball pic.twitter.com/F8AwBYpwQu
— Nathan Coleman (@CommandersStats) January 20, 2022
Combine these factors with the fact that DL Coach Karl Dunbar coached Payne while at Alabama, Payne being able to move up-and-down the defensive line, and the recent investment into Alabama alumni including Levi Wallace, Najee Harris, J.C. Hassenauer, and Minkah Fitzpatrick who Pittsburgh also parted with top draft capital to acquire from Miami when disgruntled with his role, and you see a situation where trading for Payne in-fact may be plausible. He is only 25 years old and is one of the best run-defending DL in the league. The 6’3, 320lb defender has 227 total tackles, 22 TFLs, 14.5 sacks, 35 QB hits, nine PBUs, 4 forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one INT in his first four NFL seasons.
Acquiring a player off Payne’s caliber would likely cost Pittsburgh a minimum of a second-round draft pick as well as a contract extension with him being on his fifth-year option in 2022. Still, being a well-rounded defender that can play both base end/sub package DT in 2022 for Pittsburgh and move to his more traditional NT position in 2023 to replace Alualu if re-signed, Payne could follow in his former Crimson Tide teammates’ footsteps like Fitzpatrick as a player that could be Pittsburgh’s long-term solution along the defensive line with a proven commodity that Dunbar can vouch for. If Pittsburgh is dead set on bolstering the run defense and getting a player that can build around, calling Washington about Payne’s availability may be plausible.
Daron Payne calls game vs Cam Newton 😁🔥 pic.twitter.com/S9XTymmbXc
— Alabama DieHards (@DiehardsAlabama) November 21, 2021
What are your thoughts regarding the names listed above as potential trade targets for Pittsburgh? Do you think that these players would fit, or that they aren’t worth parting with draft capital for? Should Pittsburgh consider acquiring a DL or EDGE via trade before the 2022 season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!