The conventional wisdom is that the 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers still need better depth at a handful of positions, including outside linebacker, offensive tackle and running back. There’s also a perception that the team needs more help on the defensive line, owing to the retirement of Stephon Tuitt and the fact that Tyson Alualu is 35 years old and trying to return from a season-ending ankle injury suffered in Week 2 last season.
If that’s true, the Steelers could do worse than Sheldon Richardson — 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds — a former first-round pick of the New York Jets, who selected him No. 13 overall in 2013. That’s the sentiment expressed by Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report, who includes Richardson on his list of “biggest upside free agents” and the “best fit” for the Steelers.
“Finding a defensive tackle who can play well against the run while providing some pass rush up the middle isn’t easy. Sheldon Richardson is one of the few (remaining) options that fit that mold,” writes Ballentine, who goes on to refer to the 31-year-old as a “mercenary” who would be most effective as part of a rotation.
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Pro Football Focus Projects Richardson to Receive a $3 Million Contract
In March 2022, Michael Hull of Pro Football Focus (PFF) labeled Richardson the “most versatile” of all the top free agent interior defensive linemen available.
“Richardson has experience both on the inside and outside of the defensive line, primarily lining up inside as of late despite grading better along the edges over the last few seasons,” said Hull. “(He) plays effective ball anywhere along the defensive line and will serve as an effective wildcard to play for his future defensive coordinator.”
In January, PFF.com rated him as the ninth-best interior defensive lineman available in free agency and projected he would receive a one-year deal worth $3 million. “Richardson graded out above 60.0 in every facet in 2021 and generated 37 quarterback pressures, continuing his impressive consistency as a quality interior pass rusher,” offered PFF.
All told Richardson has appeared in 138 NFL games (with 125 starts). He has 500 career tackles (297 solo), including 64 tackles for loss, with 33.5 sacks, 105 quarterback hits, 18 passes defensed, an interception, 11 forced fumbles and a half-dozen fumble recoveries, as per Pro Football Reference.
He spent the first four seasons of his career with the Jets, earning Pro Bowl honors in 2014. Since then he has played for Seattle (2017), Minnesota (2018) and Cleveland (2019-20), before returning to the Vikings for the 2021 campaign.
You may recall that Richardson was pretty disruptive when the Vikings hosted the Steelers last December, recording three solo tackles, including two tackles for loss, a sack and a quarterback hit, with one pass breakup to boot.
Last season Minnesota paid Richardson a total of $3.6 million, according to overthecap.com, including a signing bonus of $641,666 and a $1.075 million salary, with the rest in per game roster bonuses.
The Steelers Roster Remains a Work-in-Progress
Assuming Omar Khan takes the same approach as former general manager Kevin Colbert, the Steelers figure to take more time to: evaluate the players they have and see how injuries affect the various position groups before making significant new additions to the roster.
At the moment, Tyson Alualu, Chris Wormley and All-Pro Cam Heyward (recently named the best player ever drafted No. 31 overall) project as the starters on the defensive line, with 2021 fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk the best bet to replace Wormley in the lineup. The Steelers also have high hopes for rookie third-round pick DeMarvin Leal.
After that, Mike Tomlin & Co. need to sort out what they have from amongst a group that includes Montravius Adams, Henry Mondeaux, Daniel Archibong, Donovan Jeter and the twins — Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis, the latter of whom is a former sixth-round pick who started his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but signed to Pittsburgh’s practice squad in the middle of last season.
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