Steelers Predicted to Target Ex-Defensive Lineman of the Year: Analyst

Mike Tomlin

Getty One analyst predicted head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers to target a formidable defensive lineman in free agency.

The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t figure to be major players in free agency this offseason. Spotrac projected the Steelers to be more than $3 million over the 2023 salary cap as of January 24.

But while that probably rules out the Steelers making big free agent signings, with a little maneuvering around the cap, they could still use free agency to add depth.

One area where the Steelers could certainly use more depth is defensive line. With that in mind, Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox projected Pittsburgh to target defensive tackle Poona Ford in free agency.

“With a projected market value of $9.2 million annually, Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Poona Ford is a more realistic target for the Steelers,” Knox wrote. “However, this doesn’t mean that he can’t make a sizeable impact on the defense.

“Over the past three seasons, the 27-year-old has tallied 128 tackles, eight sacks and 36 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Reference.”

Ford posted 7.5 sacks and 28 tackles for loss in five NFL seasons with the Seattle Seahawks. He won the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year award at Texas in 2017.

How Realistic is the Steelers Signing Ford?

Knox argued that Daron Payne will be the top defensive tackle available in free agency this offseason. But, Spotrac projected Payne’s market value to be about $19.4 million annually on a five-year deal.

That’s not really a realistic option for the Steelers. As Knox noted, Ford’s projected value from Spotrac is a lot more reasonable — a three-year contract worth about $27.8 million ($9.2 million on an annual basis).

The Steelers have holes to fill along the defensive line, at linebacker and in the secondary. The team would probably also like to add to the offensive line this offseason.

General manager Omar Khan should address a lot of those needs early in the draft. The Steelers possess three selections in the Top 50 this year.

But should defensive line be the unit left unaddressed with those top three picks, Knox has successfully argued Ford should be on the short list of free agent additions for the group.

Where Ford Potentially Fits With the Steelers

Despite winning the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2017, Ford went undrafted because of his lack of size.

That, however, didn’t stop Ford from becoming a starter with the Seahawks by the beginning of his second season. Since the start of 2019, Ford has been an intricate part of Seattle’s defensive line rotation, playing at least 50% of the team’s defensive snaps in each of the last four years.

Ford played a career-high 802 defensive snaps, which was 63% of Seattle’s snaps on defense, in 2021. He lined up for 642 snaps (56% of Seattle’s defensive snaps) this past season.

The 27-year-old won’t fill up the stat sheet, but Ford would be a nice rotational defensive line piece for the Steelers in 2023. Steelers defensive linemen Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu, and Chris Wormley are all set to become free agents. Furthermore, perennial Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward turns 34 in May.

The other defensive linemen the Steelers have under contract for 2023 besides Heyward mostly lack experience. DeMarvin Leal and Isaiah Loudermilk both figure to play bigger roles next season, but each player will be entering either his second or third NFL season.

So even if the Steelers draft a defensive lineman early, they could still use veteran depth for the position group. Ford could provide that at a fairly reasonable price.

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