While the Pittsburgh Steelers lost the services of star defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt in June after he announced that he would be retiring from the NFL, they were fortunate that a player of the caliber of Larry Ogunjobi was available to be signed as a replacement.
A talented and still young defender, Ogunjobi initially agreed in principle to a three-year, $40.5 million contract with the Chicago Bears in March, but that contract fell through when they failed him on his physical. He suffered a foot injury while with the Cincinnati Bengals in the postseason in 2021.
The Steelers took the chance on his health, with the opportunity of seeing him more than two months further along in his recovery, and so far, it’s looking like it’s going to work out well. They were cautious in ramping him up in training camp, but he made his debut in their second preseason game, and he performed as he has been known to.
“He’s as advertised and better”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters about his unit’s new starter this year, via the team’s YouTube channel. “He knows the game very well. Very smart. The crazy thing [is] he started at nose and then started playing more 3-technique. But he is a powerful guy, and he’s only gonna get better”.
A third-round draft pick out of Charlotte in 2017—where the Steelers would find Alex Highsmith three years later—Ogunjobi played out his rookie contract with the Cleveland Browns before signing with the Bengals last season.
While he played well and was regularly highlighted as an up-and-coming defensive lineman during his time in Cleveland, he was able to take his game to another level in Cincinnati’s defense, finishing the year with career highs in seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He was injured in the team’s first postseason game, missing the final three, including the Super Bowl.
Now in Pittsburgh on a one-year, $8 million contract, he is essentially on a prove-it deal, and as long as he played up to his usual standards, he is quite likely going to be earning himself another agreement like that he received from the Bears—only this time he’ll get to sign it.
What are the chances the Steelers will be on the other end of that contract? It’s hard to say now, but they don’t necessarily have any huge contracts on the immediate horizon that are going to be breaking the bank, especially with Kenny Pickett just beginning a rookie contract. It’s not inconceivable that they could fit another eight-figure-per-year deal on the defensive line, if he earns it. And that, of course, will be determined by what he does this season.