I had a nice talk with Stephon Tuitt today with a couple of other guys.
Tuitt, who has been sitting out OTAs while he rehabs a finger injury, admits to being dependent on Cam Heyward’s leadership in the past.
But when Heyward was lost for the season last year, Tuitt said he had to grow up quickly. And that could pay dividends for the Steelers this season.
“It helped me grow a lot,” Tuitt said. “Not having that person to ask what the play is and you having to be the guy that knows the play, it was a lot of growth for me. From that point, I just grew tremendously. I helped lead the team to the AFC Championship. We were becoming a dominant defense until, unfortunately, we played the Patriots. I learned a lot, grew a lot. I learned my teammates even more than I did before.”
Heyward casts a big shadow over the other players on the defensive front. He’s their leader. But Tuitt took on that role with Heyward out of the lineup last year.
Tuitt, of course, is heading into a contract year and is still looking for a big sack season. But with both he and Heyward playing off of each other - along with the progression of Bud Dupree - that could happen this year.
The Steelers would be well served to sign Tuitt to an extension before training camp begins rather than wait for him to have a breakout season - which I think is coming.
As things now stand, the Steelers can’t and won’t pay Tuitt more than the $9.8 million per season that Heyward is earning.
But if he goes out and has a monster season, that’s probably what he will want - and get - on the open market.
@ ProFootballTalk keeps banging the drum for the Steelers to make some kind of bank-breaking deal with Alejandro Villanueva.
The bottom line, however, is that they don’t have to do anything right now.
If they offer Villanueva - an exclusive rights free agent - a long-term deal, it’s actually a favor to him.
Villanueva has yet to sign his one-year tender offer of $615,000 and I don’t blame him for that.
He’s a starting left tackle and, at 28, he’s in his prime.
But the Steelers also have extended players in his position in the past. And while it might not be for the $7 or $8 million per season he would get on the open market, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Steelers offer him a four-year deal worth $20 million or so.
Villanueva cannot become unrestricted until 2019 and by then will be 31.
The Steelers can tender him as a restricted free agent next season and give him a decent raise. But it won’t be $5 million per year.
The Steelers have all the bargaining chips in their corner right now - unless Villanueva wants to hold out. Then, he earns nothing.
And with promising second-year offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins on the roster, that might not be a prudent move, either.
@ Or course, before the Steelers do any deals with Tuitt, Villanueva or Ryan Shazier, for that matter, they must decide what to do with Le’Veon Bell.
Currently, Bell is slated to make $12.12 million this season under the franchise tag.
The Steelers can afford to carry him at that amount. But they also might want to get a long-term deal done that will lower that amount.
The franchise tag is paying Bell an average of $4 million more than the next closest running back in the league.
Any long-term deal for Bell would have to include a signing bonus of $12 million or more to entice him to sign it.
@ OTAs are now over and minicamp will be next week.
Hard to believe. That means the start of training camp is right around the corner