There are few things a fan wants to hear more than a player say “I want to be the best.” Pittsburgh’s Stephon Tuitt is a player who said as much this week and there’s nothing wrong with that right? In Jeremy Fowler’s piece on Tuitt, he quotes him as saying he’s “probably a couple of steps away from being the No. 1 defensive lineman in the league.”
Well, as of right now, Tuitt is not the best player on his own unit. That distinction belongs to Cam Heyward who currently makes just shy of $10 million per season. As Tuitt enters the final year of his rookie deal, is he suggesting he should be paid the same as his counterpart?
Should the Steelers and Tuitt not agree to a new deal prior to the beginning of the season then he will enter 2017 as the final year of his contract and become a free agent next March. Pittsburgh has a long standing tradition of not negotiating contracts once the regular season begins. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that someone will pay Tuitt more than the Steelers are willing to pay and that would be a significant loss for the defensive line corps.
But is Tuitt worth the money he may be demanding? We had an excellent opportunity to gauge this last season. Heyward went down for the season in the ninth game of the year against Dallas. That put the spotlight clearly on Tuitt and don’t think for a second the front office wasn’t paying attention. Below are Tuitt’s stats for the full season keeping in mind he missed two games as well.
Charts courtesy: pro-football-reference.com
In the five games he played without Cam Heyward by his side, Tuitt collected three of his four sacks on the season while collecting seven tackles and three assists. We must understand that defensive linemen in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense aren’t necessarily relied on for tackles or quarterback sacks. However, with the defense spending nearly 60% of it’s time in specialty packages like nickel and dime, that should have opened things up for Tuitt a little bit more in terms of stats.
In fairness to Tuitt, Heyward had just three sacks on the season before going down with the torn pectoral muscle.
Stephon Tuitt is a very valuable player in the Steelers’ defense and he deserves to be rewarded for his effort on and off the field. He’s been durable; playing in 40 of 44 games in his first three seasons. His goal of being the best at his position is what any fan wants to hear but is Tuitt worth the same money as Cam Heyward?
With looming issues with Le’Veon Bell and Alejandro Villanueva, Tuitt may have to wait his turn and that might mean getting that money elsewhere.
Update: Tuitt was NOT at mini-camp today.
Photo courtesy: nfl.com