Ricardo Mathews Eases Urgency Of Addressing DL Depth

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a surprise move yesterday in signing their fourth outside free agent, adding to the roster defensive lineman Ricardo Mathews. I will let Alex Kozora’s breakdown of the newest Pittsburgh Steelers to speak toward what he will be able to offer in terms of on-field ability, but I can speak to what sort of impact his signing might have on the team’s offseason and roster plans.

Of course, the team was in desperate need of adding a piece to the defensive line after losing starting nose tackle Steve McLendon and moving on from free agent Cam Thomas. The only sure things on the roster are their starting defensive ends, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, who combined produced 13.5 of the team’s 48 sacks last season.

Mathews, who is listed by the Steelers at 6’3” and 300 pounds, is not exactly the prototypical size of either a 3-4 end or nose tackle, but considering that the team spends the vast majority of its time in a nickel two-man front look, prototypical size is not as much of a sticking point as it was in Ziggy Hood’s day.

Pittsburgh was primarily, in this signing, looking for a player who took take some of the load off of Heyward and Tuitt, who, when healthy—the latter missed two games—logged on average between 85 to 95 percent the team’s snaps in any given game, particularly as the season wore on, and in the playoffs as well.

Mathews would seem to be a player who can make a dent in that snap deficit that they are looking to crack open, as, as you will read in Kozora’s article, his snaps primarily came exactly where the Steelers need them, mixed as a three- or one-technique nickel down lineman. Given that that was his bread and butter in San Diego, it should be a fairly easy projection.

Of course, what this signing does not do, or at least what I expect that it fails to do, is address the deficit that the Steelers have in the nose tackle department with the void left in the wake of McLendon’s agreeing to a contract with the Jets.

But it does provide a fair bit of breathing room for later this month in the draft, if they believe that he can be one of at least four defensive linemen active on game day. If they are able to come away with an Andrew Billings or a similar player in terms of scheme fit during the course of the draft, then they will have likely secured their defensive line for the 2016 season.

The signing of Mathews is not one that will wow you—and it shouldn’t—but it was a rather important one in terms of piecing together the Steelers’ 2016 roster and mapping out their offseason. Adding a player who can be a key rotational man, even of a couple hundred snaps, would be of much value considering how the roster was currently constructed before bringing him in.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Xi37

    Amazingly, the Steelers found the only D-Lineman worse than Cam Thomas in the league (per pff).

  • vasteeler

    Despite his PFF grade I have no problem with this signing, he comes fairly cheap and it’s not like they need him to be an so all star, just spell our DE’s every now and then

  • Big White

    I have yet to see anything in the way of the draft or free agency that will keep Daniel McCullers from lining up on 1st down Opening Day. If I’m way off in this projection, someone please let me know. This was a pretty big head scratching of a signing.

  • steeltown

    PFF is a joke, they’ve been way off base on numerous occasions over the years. Their eval hardly ever tells the whole story of in-game performance.

  • 58Steel

    As Alex explained in his breakdown, and Mathew emphasized in this article, Mathews will spell Heyward/Tuitt in the nickel. Since the Steelers employ that package roughly 2/3 of the time, finding a rotational player there will go farther (snaps-wise) than a NT. This signing was not intended to provide competition for McCullers. That will likely come via the draft.

  • The GreekGeek

    Not sure if there is a priority to replace Big Dan as NT. I think we need competition, but considering at best he will get 15-20 snaps a game max in the base, even as a primary starting NT, I am not sure they need to invest much in NT. I would rather see another strong DE/DT hybrid player that can play inside in the nickel and inside or outside in the base. That is the type of rotational guy we need. I also hope Big Dan can take the next step and be able to clog the middle blockers for the ILBs to make plays in the base and the goaline… Billings would be nice, but I would rather have a playmaking safety, pass rusher off the edge, or starting outside corner in the first 2-3 rounds.

  • Big White

    Yeah, I agree about the number of snaps and level of importance. If that is the case, I would be very surprised to see them take Billings at #25 unless they feel he can get to the quarterback and earn a few extra snaps per game.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Big White-

    You are NOT wrong on that projection. I don’t view either of the recent DL signings to be anything more than insurance. I think Walton and McCullers are slated as the primary back ups to Tuitt and Heyward in sub packages, and McCullers is the starting NT in base package.

    The big issue that nobody is talking about is cap room. We don’t HAVE the money to go out and get some of these mid level depth players. Once we signed Green TE, Gay CB, Golden S, Foster OG, that was it. These higher quality depth guys want a starter’s role (which we don’t have, aside from CB + S) and they want mid-starter’s money (which we also don’t have). The only reason we let McLendon go was MONEY. We just don’e have an extra $4-5 million laying around at this point.

    Now… A lot of people were calling for Colbert to make some restructures or cuts to create more cap room to sign more free agents, but that is only a temporary fix. That would come back to bite us as early as next year. We have to save that room for LeVeon Bell and DeCastro and possibly A.B. That’s the problem with having a lot of elite talent (Ben, Pouncey, DeCastro, A.B., Bell, Heyward, Timmons) those guys gobble up your cap.

    It is curious to my why they haven’t restructured Lawrence Timmons yet. And why they haven’t extended DeCastro. My hunch is that both guys’ agents are fighting for every dollar at this point, and it’s pushing the process back.

    In answer to your original point, the only significant DL help is going to come via the draft. We will probably pick up one edge guy and one interior guy in the 1st four rounds. At least one interior guy.

    The most important thing to remember at this point is… every position could use depth… only a couple positions need starters… and those positions are Cornerback and Safety. And for the people who think a rookie won’t start, just watch, one of those two positions will have a rookie starting by week 8, possibly both.

  • he’s not just a NT he can line up all over the DL

  • Michael James

    I think this signing doesn’t change the fact that we need to add serious talent to the DL. Matthews was a good insurance signing, but actually he doesn’t change the fact, that we only have two high caliber players on the DL. The dropoff after Tuitt and Heyward is just insane. That’s not the way it should be for a team with a history like the Steelers.

  • Big White

    All of that sounds pretty spot on, for the exception of Safety. I haven’t seen many, if any, projections of a Safety going in the first round. My guess is that we not only know that McCullers is our starting NT in the base D, but also that Robert Golden in now a starter. I think before the Steelers ever even think about drafting cornerback, they are going to sit back watch it all go down and perhaps go BPA. I just don’t see them taking Apple, William Jackson or Alexander if a stud like Billings, Spence or Ragland is still sitting there. I like those three corner, but I would get the heck out of the first round and move down.

  • OIF3gunner

    I don’t think he’s going to be as bad as people think.

  • joed32

    I think he’s a nose only and not athletic enough for a DE, but we’ll see. If they draft him then I hope you’re right.

  • Arthur Branch

    PFF lost me when they had the 6th ranked cornerback and he signed a deal for the league minimum same as this guy.

  • Matthew Marczi

    As much as I respect PFF and what they do, if there’s one particular grade I would most take with a grain of salt, it’s the way they grade 3-4 defensive linemen.

  • Steel PAul

    Dude is scary good. Can play DT in 4-2-5 or 2-4-5 and be in the same range of disruption as Heyward and Tuitt. His position flexibility allows the team to make adjustments mid-stream as well. Gives them THREE absolute studs in the front of the D.

  • Joseph Duffy

    We will see.

  • joed32

    Watch his game vs Oklahoma.

  • Steel PAul

    They lined him up on the nose a lot, don’t get me wrong. But there were times last year in the nickel that Tuitt lined up over the nose, because he was more stout against double teams than McClendon was.

    The Steelers need a Dlineman who can play both the nose as well as inside on 4-2-5. Haven’t seen anything that suggests he can’t do that.

  • Steel PAul

    Just read he was injured for that game and played on one leg essentially. Also check out Dave’s article he just posted on him. Not saying it will change your opinion, but if the guy was playing hurt, you can see how his play may have suffered.

  • Joseph Duffy

    If they draft him I hope he turns out to be great but the draft is supposed to be deep in the DL and we need help in the DB and another pass rusher. If he’s the best player available they will take him.

  • Steel PAul

    I kind of like the idea of adding Ragland, if he’s there. Adding him to Shazier would make the middle seriously strong, considering LT slowed down last year.