NFL News & Analysis

Steelers sign former Chargers edge defender Melvin Ingram III

Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram (54) celebrates after his fourth quarter interception against the Cincinnati Bengals during the second half at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take long for Melvin Ingram III’s visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers to result in a deal, unlike his previous visits with the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins. Ingram is reportedly signing for one year to bolster a Steelers edge defender rotation lacking depth behind projected starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.

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Ingram ranked 62nd on PFF’s list of the top free agents entering the 2021 NFL offseason, ahead of notable edge rushers Bud Dupree (64th), Leonard Floyd (67th), Trey Hendrickson (68th) and Matthew Judon (86th). The 32-year-old could very well end up providing the most value with respect to his contract of any free agent edge defender who signed a new deal this offseason.

There are a number of things that led to it taking until mid-July for Ingram to find a new home. Age, recent injury history and a goose egg in the sack column in 2020 all worked against him. Age and injuries are legitimate reasons for his depressed value, but Ingram is no less disruptive as a pass rusher just because he didn’t convert any of his pressures into sacks last season.

Most QB pressures without a sack in 2020
Player 2020 pressures
Jadeveon Clowney 28
Melvin Ingram III 28
Linval Joseph 26
Arden Key 24
Jalyn Holmes 19

No player had more pressures than Ingram (28) without a sack in 2020. He doesn’t fall in line with the Brandon Grahams and Jadeveon Clowneys of the world who struggle to convert their pressures into sacks year after year, either. His 43 sacks in the five years prior to 2020 ranked as a top-15 total across the league.

Ingram’s lowest PFF pass-rushing grade since 2014 was a 71.8 mark back in 2018. Even as he battled injuries in 2019 and 2020, Ingram cleared a 75.0 pass-rushing grade when on the field. He can still get after the quarterback, and he’s stepping into an ideal situation in Pittsburgh at this stage of his career.

Ingram will find himself low on the list of priorities for opposing offenses who also have to block Watt, Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt — three of eight players in the NFL to record at least 62 pressures last season. Highsmith (72.9 overall grade in 2020) was impressive as a rookie, as well. Those pieces already in place on the NFL's best defensive front will allow Ingram to stay fresh as a rotational edge rusher behind Watt and Highsmith, who still project as the starters.

Cassius Marsh and sixth-round rookie Quincy Roche stood out as Pittsburgh’s top rotational options before Ingram’s signing. Dupree’s departure in free agency left them thin, but the combination of Highsmith, Ingram and Watt could actually lead to an improved pass rush next season.

Pass-rush win rates since 2018
Season Melvin Ingram III Bud Dupree
2018 14.0% 10.9%
2019 16.8% 12.6%
2020 17.8% 13.7%

Ingram has won as a pass rusher on a more consistent basis than Dupree in each of the past three seasons, even as he moves away from his prime. Ingram does likely represent a downgrade against the run and can’t be relied upon to play the volume of snaps Dupree played for much of his career, but he won’t be asked to with Highsmith in the fold.

It’s a deal that makes sense for both sides from a football perspective as we await the financial details on the one-year contract.

Ingram briefly held out of practice entering the final year of his four-year, $64 million contract with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020, eventually returning after his entire $14 million salary was fully guaranteed. His one-year deal with Pittsburgh comes off a season in which he missed nine games with injury.

New Philadelphia Eagles edge defender Ryan Kerrigan — another veteran free agent who was drafted in the first round the year before Ingram — was able to secure a one-year, $2.5 million contract in May. Since 2019, playing almost identical snap totals, here’s how the two stack up:

Player Overall grade Pressure % Defensive stops
Melvin Ingram 76.1 13.1% 24
Ryan Kerrigan 61.9 10.4% 9

With Ingram’s signing, the veteran free agent edge defender to keep an eye on is former Colts edge defender Justin Houston. The Colts have reportedly kept in contact with Houston, and a handful of other clubs have also expressed interest. 

Pittsburgh has now bolstered both trench units with veteran signings over the past month, inking guard Trai Turner to a one-year, $3 million deal in late June. Despite plenty of concern surrounding Ben Roethlisberger and the offense, the Steelers should once again have one of the league’s better defenses in 2021.

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