Ex-Steelers Standout Named a Top 5 Free Agent for 2023

Mike Tomlin Steelers sideline

Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin during a preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on August 20, 2022.

With the Pittsburgh Steelers at 3-7 and tied for last place in the AFC North, it’s not too early to start looking ahead to next year. With that in mind, Pro Football Focus (PFF) recently identified the Top 10 unrestricted free agents for 2023, a list that begins with three quarterbacks: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens) at No. 1; Geno Smith (Seattle Seahawks) No. 2; and Tom Brady (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) at No. 3.

The Steelers don’t seem likely to pursue any of the top free agent quarterbacks, but the top non-quarterback — and the No. 4 player on PFF’s list — could be interest, especially considering that the organization selected him in the third round of the 2016 draft. That would be Philadelphia Eagles nose tackle Javon Hargrave, who has “blossom(ed) into one of the elite interior pass-rushers in the NFL over the past few seasons. Since 2020, Hargrave’s 91.8 pass-rush grade trails only Aaron Donald and Chris Jones, with his 19.2% pass-rush win rate also ranking third,” offers PFF’s Brad Spielberger.

“Hargrave will be 30 years old for the 2023 season, but we’ve seen many interior defenders maintain longevity well into their 30s recently,” adds Spielberger, a list that includes Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward, who continues to play at an All-Pro level at the age of 33.

Javon Hargrave Would Fill a Prospective Need

Hargrave would fill what looks to be a big need in 2023. That is, the starting nose tackle position, which is currently being manned by Montravius Adams, largely because former starter Tyson Alualu, 35, was demoted in late September due to ineffective play. The Steelers might well keep Adams around next year, as he’s under contract for one more season at a salary of $2.5 million and a cap hit of $3.233 million, according to overthecap.com. But this is no doubt Alualu’s last year, as the two-year contract he signed in late March 2021 expires at the end of the season.

And with Ben Roethlisberger off the books in 2023 (and Kenny Pickett on his rookie contract), the Steelers might have the cap room to sign a player like Hargrave, who made his first Pro Bowl in 2021. (Roethlisberger is one of 19 former Steelers who count $34,822,876 million against Pittsburgh’s 2022 salary cap.)

As for his counting numbers: To date Hargrave has appeared in 104 games (with 89 starts) over the course of his six-plus seasons and has recorded 309 tackles (174 solo), including 42 tackles for loss, 33.5 sacks and 58 quarterback hits, plus four forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, this according to Pro Football Reference.

But as noted by PFF, Hargrave has become a much more impactful pass rusher since leaving Pittsburgh. In fact, 14.5 of his 33.5 career sacks have come since the start of the 2021 season. Likewise, 28 of his 58 quarterback hits have come within the same time frame.

Hargrave Recently Took a Shot at the Steelers for Not Re-Signing Him

Some will take issue with how Hargrave recently trolled the Steelers for not re-signing him when he reached free agency in 2020. He took that shot via an Instagram post that highlighted his sack-fumble of Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett on Oct. 30.

But Hargrave is no doubt well aware that salary cap constraints made him unaffordable, given that he received a three-year, $39 million contract from the Eagles.

Recall that the Steelers already had big money tied up in former 2nd-round pick Stephon Tuitt, who signed a five-year, $60 million contract extension in 2017. Also, the Steelers had to set aside money to extend All-Pro defensive lineman Cam Heyward, who received a five-year, $75.1 million contract in Sept. 2020, which keeps him in Pittsburgh through the end of the 2024 season.

Tuitt retired from the NFL in June 2022 at the age of 29, having missed the entire 2021 season in the wake of the death of his younger brother in a tragic hit-and-run accident. In April 2022, CBS Sports named Heyward the best-ever player drafted No. 31 overall.