The Pittsburgh Steelers have a conundrum on the defensive line. They need to replace former starter Stephon Tuitt since he has officially retired. They drafted DeMarvin Leal out of Texas A &M in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft with the intent of blending him in to spell Tyson Alualu and Tuitt on the defensive line. I think Leal will be a boost for the run defense in Pittsburgh, but a very interesting free agent is lingering in the market. The Steelers gained cap room by signing Minkah Fitzpatrick, so they have money to spend. The Steelers should strongly consider giving it to Larry Ogunjobi.
Ogunjobi was a highly underrated piece of the Cincinnati Bengals defense last season. His work on their defensive line vastly improved their run defense and he is an adequate pass rusher, coming off a career high 7 sacks in 2021. Ogunjobi checks a lot of traditional boxes for Steelers free agents. He is still young, only 28 years old and he was drafted the same year as T.J. Watt. He has started for the Cleveland Browns and Bengals at defensive tackle and has the skill set to be an ideal defensive end in the 3-4 defense. He is only one year younger than Tuitt, but the Chicago Bears recognized his potential by signing him to a four-year $40 million dollar deal that was voided when he failed his physical. He injured his right foot against the Las Vegas Raiders in the playoffs and that could be the reason he failed the physical, but the reason was not officially disclosed.
Ogunjobi has visited the New York Jets and has not drawn much interest because of the health issues surrounding him. The Steelers could and should pounce now since the league is ignoring the defensive tackle until he can pass a physical. The Bears doctors examined him two months after the surgery to repair his right foot in January. The Steelers could get a tremendous bargain by bringing him in on either a one-year “prove it” deal in the $4 million to $5 million dollar range, or if they see that he is on track and will be ready for opening day, maybe a two to three year deal for $5.5 million to $7 million annually to secure a proven AFC North commodity. The Bengals are keeping the door open for his return, but with the team concentrating on Jessie Bates, the Steelers could get a steal with Ogunjobi while weakening the Bengals in the process.
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Ogunjobi is extremely familiar with the AFC North and worst case can give insight into Kevan Stefanski and Zac Taylor’s previous game plans and defensive schemes. It is exactly the kind of move that Bill Belichick consistently made with the New England Patriots over the years, signing players for short-term deals, pumping them for information and if they could not contribute, dumping them. Best case scenario for the Steelers is you get a veteran starting defensive lineman who has contributed to two playoff teams on the cheap. Worst case scenario, you stick him on IR to keep him out of the Bengals hands and gain insight about the inner workings of your opponent’s locker rooms. Mike Tomlin cannot rely on the fact that Ben Roethlisberger could account for virtually anything an AFC North defense was doing over the last couple of seasons. Brian Flores would do well to whisper into Tomlin’s ear that “Bill would do it.”
Personally, I am fan of Ogunjobi. He is a quality player that I think is big and fast enough that he would be more effective as a defensive end in the 3-4. At 6 foot 4 and 305 pounds; up until his foot injury, he moved very well for a defensive tackle and if he is at 85%, then Leal can be eased into the lineup in a rotation as planned. Chris Wormley still would provide quality depth and the Steelers would turn a weakness into a strength. Ogunjobi is still young, and even if there are some complications from his foot surgery in January, it is reasonable to assume that barring further setbacks, he could be on the field eight months later to start the season in September.