How should Steelers’ fans evaluate Tuitt’s season, and what should we expect moving forward?
Since one of the most pressing issues facing the Steelers this offseason is how to handle the contracts of a number of players with large salary cap hits, we’re going to take this opportunity to break down the player statistics, salary cap implications, and play on the field to help determine what would be in the Steelers’ best interest. This will be the focus on our Steelers Vertex series over the next several weeks.
Starting off with the obvious choice of Ben Roethlisberger followed by Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden and David DeCastro, we left it up to YOU, the readers, to determine which player we will look at next. Next up is Stephon Tuitt as the top choice in the voter poll. For now, the choices will be players under contract for the 2021 season but the Steelers will need to consider if they are going to retain, extend, or release.
Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.
Vertex– a single point where two or more lines cross.
Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.
As stated above, the topic at hand this week is looking at Stephon Tuitt and making a case for what the Steelers should do in regards to his contract in 2021. Being the first player covered with more than one year left on his current deal, the question is should they keep his contract as is or do a restructure for this season?
Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.
The Stats Line:
When it comes to Stephon Tuitt and his contract, the biggest thing is going to be if the Steelers should do a restructure and push more money into 2022 in order to help with this year’s salary cap. In order to do so, it would make sense to have Tuitt producing at a high level. So is this the case?
For the 2020 season, absolutely it is. Tuitt is coming off the best season of his career where he had career highs in sacks, tackles for loss, and quarterback hits as well as tying his career high for forced fumbles. With 11.0 sacks, Tuitt out did his previous best by 4.5 when he had 6.5 sacks in his second season in 2015. It was the first time Tuitt hit double digits in sacks as well as tackles for loss as he had 10 on the season. Tuitt’s 25 quarterback hits had him five more than what he reached in 2018.
One way in which Tuitt has been criticized in years past was his ability to stay on the field. Only appearing in every game his rookie season, 2020 gave to it his second-greatest regular-season total of 15 games with his only miss being in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens as he was on the Reserve/COVID-19 List.
As for the salary, Tuitt as sets to count $14,940,750 against the salary cap in 2021. His base salary is $9 million with almost $6 million coming as dead money. Tuitt’s salary cap hit for 2022 is somewhat less at $12,389,310 because the dead money carrying through is only a little over $3.3 million. With this being the case, the Steelers could choose to reduce Tuitt’s salary cap number for this season and carry a greater number next year instead.
A restructure for Tuitt would have his $9 million base salary in 2021 reduced to $1.075 million which is the league minimum for a player with his years of service. The remaining $7.925 million would be given as a signing bonus where it would be spread over the two years remaining of the contract. This would save the Steelers $3.9625 million towards the 2021 salary cap. In doing so, it would increase Tuitt’s 2022 cap number two $16,351,810 where $7,303,250 would be in dead money.
As a reminder, a restructured contract does not mean a player gets paid any more or less unless there is an agreement to do so. All this does is pay the player their money upfront which allows the team to push some of it off into the future.
A restructure for two it would mean the Steelers could save some salary cap this year. The biggest thing they would want to consider is if Tuitt is producing at a level to make the salary cap hit next season worthwhile. The numbers seem to make sense. But what about the film?
The Film Line:
As Dave pointed out, this season Stephon Tuitt’s stats were significantly better than his previous season best. But the film shows the same player the Steelers have had since his second season in 2015. At least the player they’ve had when he’s healthy.
Week 1, 2nd quarter, 3:24. Stephon Tuitt is the defensive end to the right side of the screen, directly across from the right tackle (#75)
Stephon Tuitt is a disruptor. His primary impact on the football field is getting into your backfield however he can, getting in the way and messing up your play design. On this play Daniel Jones (#8) knows the pressure off the edge is coming, but he can’t just step up in the pocket because Stephon Tuitt drove the guard 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. When Jones decides to take off and run for it, Tuitt gets off the block and makes the tackle for a sack. This play is impressive because contact with the center turns Tuitt sideways, yet he still drives the guard backward a few more yards.
Week 15, 3rd quarter, 5:27. Stephon Tuitt (#91) is the defensive tackle to the left side of the screen.
Stephon Tuitt’s first move doesn’t work here, the guard catches his swim move and has control of Tuitt’s rush. Stephon Tuitt improvises and throws an arm and shoulder into the center that is helping contain Cameron Heyward. Heyward recognizes what is going on and switches gaps with Tuitt. Stephon Tuitt ends up with the sack here because he never stops, his motor is always going and he gets back to the quarterback to deny any gained yards and that earns him another sack.
Tuitt’s hustle is just as big an asset as his power. And it is especially important because Tuitt is a bit reckless in his play. He’s not the most gap-sound defender, he’s going to get into the backfield and mess things up. He’ll do it as responsibly as he can, but he errs on the side of generating havoc, not playing inside the scheme. His relentless motor allows him to recover and fixr a good number of his mistakes. That’s a major boost to his value. Of course, having Cameron Heyward, a smart and incredibly sound defender, next to him helps a lot as well.
Stephon Tuitt doesn’t have a lot of pass rushing tools in his kit, he basically has two attacks.
Week 16, 3rd quarter, 2:26, Stephon Tuitt is the defensive end to the right side of the screen.
Straight power here. Drive your blocker into the backfield, shed block, get to ball. Look at the lower body of his blocker when Tuitt delivers his shot, he drives the lineman back 5 yards with one good hit, creating a lane to the quarterback.
Week 16, 3rd quarter, 10:17. Stephon Tuitt is the defensive end to the right side of the screen.
Tuitt pairs his bull rush with a nice swim move that puts him right in the middle of the pocket, beating fellow pass rusher T.J. Watt to the quarterback.
That’s it for pass rushing moves. A big hit or a swim is really all blockers have to worry about when they face Stephon Tuitt, and yet one-on-one there are few lineman that can win that matchup consistently.
It’s no coincidence that Dick LeBeau and his two-gapping defensive lineman based defense was no longer wanted in Pittsburgh after Stephon Tuitt’s rookie season, and it is no coincidence that in Keith Butler’s first season turning the defensive lineman loose the Steelers bounced back to being one of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL. Stephon Tuitt is not a two-gapping lineman, he’s a play wrecking machine, and the rest of the Steelers defense makes a lot of plays off the chaos he generates.
In 2019 Stephon Tuitt got off to an incredible start before his season ended in Week 6. His stats and film were great, and it raised the question of what Stephon Tuitt would look like if he was healthy for a full season. I brought it up at the time, that Tuitt had a similar great start in 2015, his second season in the NFL, but missed two games with injury after Week 6 and wasn’t the same player when he returned.
In 2020 the Steelers finally got to see a healthy Stephon Tuitt for a full season, as stated before his only missed game was for Covid-19 and not an injury, and now Steelers’ fans know what a healthy Stephon Tuitt can do. But while Tuitt set career highs statistically, his value to the defense is bigger than just his stats. The chaos he creates in the opponent’s backfield opens up opportunities for plays to be made. In fact, many of the stats Tuitt records start with him blowing up a play, and then hustling to be the first player to the ball.
For this reason, the Steelers should simply keep Stephon Tuitt’s contact the same for 2021 or do a restructure and save just shy of $4 million toward the this year’s salary cap.
Which player would you like to see broken down for next weeks Steelers Vertex? Make sure you vote in the poll below.
Past Vertex breakdowns: