On Wednesday June 22 the Pittsburgh Steelers announced the signing of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to a one-year contract, a deal applauded by former Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster, who battled the former Browns third-round pick on several different occasions during the course of his career. On Thursday, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network revealed that Ogunjobi’s contract is worth “up to $8 million including incentives.”
That leaves plenty of room for the Steelers to address other positions of need, as the team had $23,106,733 in cap space prior to the Ogunjobi deal, as per overthecap.com.
On Thursday, Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review urged the Steelers to use some of that money to sign four-time Pro Bowler Justin Houston to “press” third-year outside linebacker Alex Highsmith. Notably, Highsmith has recorded just eight sacks, one interception and one forced fumble in his first two seasons, despite playing opposite the pass rushing terror that is T.J. Watt.
More notably, still, the outside linebacker depth behind Watt and Highsmith can be seen as lacking. Derrek Tuszka is arguably the top backup at the position, but Tuszka contributed just two sacks, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble in 247 defensive snaps last season, per Pro Football Reference (PFR).
In addition, the Steelers have former Eagles linebacker Genard Avery on a one-year contract, but Avery has just 7.5 sacks in five NFL seasons. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin also has Delontae Scott at his disposal; Scott got the opportunity to make his NFL debut against the Los Angeles Chargers in November 2021. Last but not least, 2019 “camp phenom” Tuzar Skipper is back in the fold, having signed with the Steelers in early June.
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Justin Houston Had a 77.8 PFF Grade in 2021
By contrast, Houston — 6-foot-3 and 258 pounds — has started 143 of the 149 NFL games in which he has appeared. He has 102 career sacks, including the 4.5 sacks — and 17 quarterback hits — he had last season as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, as per PFR.
If his Pro Football Focus pass rush grade for 2021 is any indication, he seems ideal for spelling Watt (or Highsmith) on pass rushing downs, as he posted an impressive 77.4 pass rush grade (77.8 overall grade) last year. Nor would he be especially expensive; he played for the Ravens last year on a one-year contract worth $2.075 million, according to Spotrac.com.
The idea of Houston signing with Pittsburgh isn’t pie in the sky, either, as the Steelers pursued him last year before turning to Melvin Ingram. After Houston inked a deal with the Ravens last summer, the former Chiefs third-round pick admitted he came “so close” to signing with the Steelers but believed Baltimore was a “better fit,” largely because he envisioned getting more one-on-one opportunities to rush the passer in the Ravens’ scheme.
If there’s a potential fly in the ointment, it’s that the Ravens have applied the rarely-used UFA tender to Houston. As noted by Field Yates of ESPN, the tag doesn’t prevent the Steelers from adding him, but the signing would factor into the formula used to calculate compensatory picks to be awarded to the Ravens in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Houston is free to sign with any other team until July 22, 2022, after which the Ravens would have exclusive negotiating rights.
2 Alternatives to Justin Houston
If the Steelers are no longer intrigued by Justin Houston, there are other veterans still on the market who could be signed at a reasonable price. As noted by the aforementioned Benz, that includes: former Washington first-round pick Ryan Kerrigan (33 years old, 95.5 career sacks), who played for the Eagles in 2021. Another option is Alex Okafor (31 years old, 31.5 sacks), a former fourth-round pick who has played for three different teams, most recently the Kansas City Chiefs.
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