Steelers Urged to Consider Bringing In Historic Edge Rusher

Mike Tomlin

Getty Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers are being encouraged to consider signing edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.

Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt of the Pittsburgh Steelers have been at the top of more than one pass-rushing duo list this offseason. It’s not hard to see why.

The two defensive stars have made a combined six first-team All-Pros and 11 Pro Bowls. Since Watt came into the NFL in 2017, the two pass rushers have 131 sacks together.

But that doesn’t mean the Steelers couldn’t be interested in another playmaker on the edge. Bleacher Report’s Jake Rill argued that the Steelers should even consider signing one of the top pass rushers remaining in free agency — Yannick Ngakoue.

“Sure, Pittsburgh has T.J. Watt and numerous other solid players on the edges,” Rill wrote. “But it can’t hurt to add another player to the rotation, especially when it’s somebody the caliber of Ngakoue.

“If the market for Ngakoue remains slow, maybe the Steelers could get him on a cost-effective deal. They could greatly boost their defense and might not even have to spend much to do so.”

Ngakoue has recorded sacks at an historic pace to begin his NFL career. In 2022, he became just the fifth player in NFL history to post 8 sacks or more in each of his first seven seasons in the league.

Reggie White, Aaron Donald, Derrick Thomas and DeMarcus Ware are the only other players to accomplish that feat besides Ngakoue.

How Ngakoue Fits With the Steelers

There’s no debating that Watt and Heyward make up a dynamic duo. Furthermore, Alex Highsmith broke out with 14.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss, 20 quarterback hits and a league-leading 5 forced fumbles.

Watt, Heyward and Highsmith should make up one of the most dangerous pass rushes in the NFL during 2023. It could be the most dangerous.

So why add Ngakoue? Well, the Steelers remain just a Watt injury away from their great pass rush becoming an average one.

In 2022, Watt missed seven games because of torn pectoral muscle he suffered in Week 1. While sitting out with that injury, he also underwent arthroscopic knee surgery because of an injury from the preseason.

The injuries slowed Watt considerably, as he finished with a career-low 5.5 sacks in 10 contests. Because of that, the Steelers ended 2022 tied for 14th in the NFL with 40 sacks.

The 2.35 sacks per game the Steelers averaged was their lowest since 2014.

The obvious hope is Watt will be healthy in 2023. But he’s missed 10 games over the past three years and hasn’t played a full season since 2019.

Bringing in Ngakoue would give the Steelers insurance in case Watt goes down again this fall. As Rill argued, the longer Ngakoue is available, the more affordable he is likely to become in free agency.

Other Potential Pass Rushing Options in NFL Free Agency

From a pass rushing standpoint, Ngakoue would put the Steelers defense over the top. With about $12.3 million remaining in salary cap space, general manager Omar Khan should have the room to add him to the roster.

But assuming the Steelers are interested, Pittsburgh might not be Ngakoue’s preferred destination. While appearing on Sirius XM NFL radio on June 2, Ngakoue said he’s “ready for a stable home” and prefers his next stop being on “a multi-year deal.”

Ngakoue has been unable to find a permanent home for most of his career. He hasn’t spent back-to-back seasons with the same organization since 2018-19, as he’s played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Baltimore Ravens, Las Vegas Raiders and Indianapolis Colts over the past four seasons.

The Steelers probably aren’t the team to offer Ngakoue a long-term home. Not with extending Highsmith a new contract Pittsburgh’s top priority. As of now, Highsmith is entering 2023 on the final year of his deal.

Khan also has to plan ahead and keep space available for his budding stars on offense that are currently on rookie deals.

If the Steelers can land Ngakoue on an affordable one-year deal, he would make a strong addition to Pittsburgh’s pass rush. But that kind of situation would presumably not be his first choice.

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