The next few months ahead in the offseason ahead of the 2023 season will be a pivotal time for the direction and shape of the Pittsburgh Steelers under a new front office regime in GM Omar Khan, assistant GM Andy Weidl and Director of Pro Scouting Sheldon White.
With more than 20 players set to hit free agency, the Steelers have a lot of work to do to ensure certain holes are plugged and upgrades — at least on paper — are made at certain positions.
Certain players will take much greater priority over others this offseason, too, like cornerback Cameron Sutton. One name should be high on the list of offseason priorities for the Steelers though, higher than some might expect. That player?
Defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi.
Signed to a one-year deal on June 21 last summer, Ogunjobi had a quiet year in the Steel City, recording 48 tackles and just 1.5 sacks to go along with seven tackles for a loss while playing 63% of the snaps.
Those numbers might not scream offseason priority for the Steelers, but based on the depth concerns along the defensive line, retaining a guy like Ogunjobi, who turns 29 years old in June, should be high up on the list of moves to make for Khan, Weidl and the rest of the Steelers’ front office.
Prior to signing with the Steelers, Ogunjobi entered free agency as a highly sought-after defensive lineman after one season in Cincinnati, where he recorded a career-high 7.0 sacks, helping the Bengals get into the postseason. Though he missed the run to the Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams due to a foot injury, Ogunjobi had a terrific year and was in line for a big pay-day.
That seemed to come with a three-year, $41 million agreement with the Chicago Bears on the open market. But, Ogunjobi then failed his physical which negated the deal, leaving him on the open market for months before Khan and Weidl pounced, getting a piece to plug the hole created after Stephon Tuitt’s retirement on June 1.
Though Ogunjobi wasn’t his game-wrecking self for much of the season, he was still a rather solid piece in the trenches for the Steelers, especially in the second half of the season after outside linebacker T.J. Watt made his return to the lineup, lining up next to Ogunjobi.
On the season, Ogunjobi recorded his second-highest grade of his career from Pro Football Focus with a 61.7 overall, which trailed his rookie-season mark of 78.4 in Cleveland in 2017. Ogunjobi also played the fewest snaps of his career since his rookie season, tallying just 636 snaps in 2022.
In those 636 snaps, Ogunjobi rushed the passer on 384 of them, generating 30 total pressures for the Steelers opposite Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward. Nineteen of those 30 pressures came once Watt was back in the lineup, including a season-high eight pressures in the season finale against the Cleveland Browns and right guard Wyatt Teller and center Ethan Pocic.
He got off to a slow start early in the season as the Steelers brought him along slowly in training camp and the preseason as he worked back from his foot injury. The veteran defensive tackle missed just one game in 2022 — the Week 8 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on the road — and was largely dependable when on the field, generating at least two pressures in 10 of the 16 games he played for the Steelers.
Entering free agency, Ogunjobi is currently ranked the No. 8 interior defensive lineman set to hit free agency, according to Pro Football Focus. He is projected to land a three-year, $30 million contract in free agency, with $20 million in guarantees, according to projections from PFF’s Brad Speilberger.
While that might sound a bit rich for the Steelers, making Ogunjobi a priority has to be in the cards for the Steelers. He played on an $8 million price tag last season and was a key piece down the stretch against the run and as a pass rusher.
With the holes along the defensive line this offseason at nose tackle (Tyson Alualu’s a free agent and likely retires; Montravius Adams was a disappointment) and at defensive end (Ogunjobi and Chris Wormley — recovering from a torn ACL — are free agents; Isiaahh Loudermilk took a step back), keeping a key piece in the trenches that played well next to Heyward, Watt and Alex Highsmith should hold serious weight for the Steelers’ decision makers.
Weidl comes from Philadelphia, where they make the trenches on both sides of the football a priority. That will likely be the case in Pittsburgh, too, and he was a key factor in signing Ogunjobi last June after the retirement of Tuitt. Ogunjobi showed nothing last season that should scare off the Steelers on a multi-year deal, especially if it’s right around two years.
He, much like Sutton, has to be a priority this offseason when it comes to retaining experienced, key pieces. Retaining Ogunjobi would allow the Steelers to be a bit more flexible in the draft when it comes to addressing the defensive line, whether that’s at No. 32 or No. 49 overall, rather than at No. 17 overall in the first round.