One of the great mysteries in the NFL last year was whether Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt would resume playing football before the 2021 season came to an end. As it turns out, Tuitt did not play in 2021, and until March 1, there was little indication about whether or not he would return in 2022.
But during an interview with Steelers Nation Radio on Tuesday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert indicated Tuitt does plan on playing football this season.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” he said, while at the NFL Combine.
“He wanted to play last year,” added Colbert, suggesting that a knee injury was the prevailing reason why Tuitt didn’t suit up last season.
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In addition, Tuitt’s younger brother was killed in a tragic hit-and-run accident outside Atlanta in June 2021. The 28-year-old defensive end then underwent knee surgery in training camp, and he spent the entire season on injured reserve, with neither the team—nor his teammates—offering much in the way of information regarding a potential return.
When asked about Tuitt in mid-August 2021, defensive captain Cameron Heyward said Tuitt was “working his way back” and that he and his teammates would “continue to be there for him.”
Colbert Stopped Short of Saying Tuitt Will Play for the Steelers
Yet Kevin Colbert did not confirm that Tuitt will be playing for the Steelers in 2022. The former second-round pick (Notre Dame, 2014) is entering the last season of a five-year contract extension he signed in 2017, one that calls for him to be paid of salary of just over $9 million and carries a cap hit of $13.975 million. That’s the third-highest salary cap hit on the team, according to overthecap.com, behind reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and first-team All-Pro Cam Heyward.
If the Steelers release Tuitt before June 1, 2022, they would realize a salary cap savings of $9.68 million, money that could be better spent in free agency, assuming Tuitt cannot return to the level of performance he demonstrated in past years. That includes 2020, when he was in on 45 tackles and recorded a career-high 11 sacks, as per Pro Football Reference.
“We’re very excited to see what the next step is for Stephon,” Colbert told Steelers Nation Radio. “We’re respectful of where he is. We’ll continue to monitor that and see where it leads. Stephon went through a tough year. We respect that and understood that.
“The next step, we don’t know. We’ll always have that door open for him.”
Colbert Provides Update on the Process of Hiring a New G.M.
On Tuesday Kevin Colbert also provided some insight about where things stand in terms of hiring his successor, noting that the team wanted to get most of the initial interviews out of the way before March 1, when teams can begin restricting candidates from interviewing for positions with other clubs.
As noted by Heavy.com’s Steelers G.M. Interview Tracker, there are 13 candidates currently under consideration, including ESPN commentator Louis Riddick, who was interviewed earlier this week in Indianapolis, as per ESPN senior NFL insider Adam Schefter.
That also includes two internal candidates, namely vice president of football and business administration Omar Khan and pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt. Longtime Steelers beat reporter Ed Bouchette has indicated that the Steelers may not hire a new G.M. at all, in which case they would split the duties between two individuals, possibly Khan and Hunt.
Earlier this year, Colbert indicated that he would step down after the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft.
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