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.