The Jacksonville Jaguars made an underrated addition to the defensive line room on Tuesday, while also simultaneously reuniting with a former first-round pick and fan favorite in Tyson Alualu.
Alualu, 33, is fresh off a terrific 2020 with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a year in which he recorded 38 tackles, five quarterback hits, two sacks, four tackles for loss, and one forced fumble after transitioning to nose tackle in the Steelers' 3-4 defense.
The addition of Alualu, which ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reports is for two years and $6 million, brings Alualu back to the franchise that drafted him No. 10 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft, leading to a seven-year tenure.
Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen was Alualu's position coach for the first three years of his career, while Jaguars defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi was Alualu's defensive line coach for the end of his tenure at at the University of California.
So, what does the addition of Alualu mean for the Jaguars now and for the future? We take a look here and give our grade.
How does he fit?
Alualu is a seamless fit for the Jaguars as they transition to a more multiple defense. Not only does he bring a veteran prescence, experience and leadership, but we have already seen how he functions in an attacking 3-4 defense.
He truly did it all during his tenure at Pittsburgh, rotating at defensive end and filling in for Stephon Tuitt at times over the last four seasons. Then last year, the Steelers asked Alualu to switch to nose tackle to replace standout Javon Hargrave.
Alualu responded to the request with one of his most productive seasons, becoming one of the most disruptive defensive linemen in football last season while playing 44% of Pittsburgh's defensive snaps. He was most effective as a run defender thanks to his ability to defeat one-on-one blocks, but his effort and efficiency on stunts made him an impact sub-package defender as well.
The Jaguars essentially had to start from scratch at the defensive line position this offseason. This is in part due to the scheme change from Todd Wash's 4-3 to Cullen's multiple 3-4, but also in large part because the Jaguars didn't have many consistent interior disruptors last season. Adding Alualu means the Jaguars now have a reliable veteran who they know can slot in at every spot along the interior defensive line.
Cullen and Jacksonville are more than likely going to have to wait until players are on the practice field to see how they fit into the new scheme, but it is notable the team now has a few exceptions. Along with former Ravens defensive lineman Jihad Ward, the Jaguars also agreed to terms with an experienced 3-4 defensive lineman in Roy Robertson-Harris. Add in Alualu, and the Jaguars' defensive line is much more prepared for a rotation in the new scheme than it was a week ago.
Alualu is also reunited with two of his former position coaches in Cullen and Lupoi. His comfort with each coach is undoubtedly a big reason why he ended up coming back to Jacksonville, and his experience with each could end up helping the entire defensive line room with the transition in the fall.
Impact on depth chart
It depends how the Jaguars see Alualu. He could realistically play both end and nose tackle, after all. The Jaguars have a need at nose tackle due to the impending free agency of veteran nose tackle Abry Jones, but they do already have two quality young nose tackles in DaVon Hamilton and Doug Costin, each of whom was strong in run defense as rookies last year.
With that said, each of those players is a projection to nose tackle in Cullen's scheme. Alualu has already shown the ability to thrive at that spot, so he could be a more sound option to start the year, or at least to lead a rotation among the group.
The Jaguars could also rotate him at end with Ward, Robertson-Harris, and re-signed defensive lineman Dawuane Smoot. He is strong in run defense and his ability to penetrate gaps and occupy space on stunts would serve him well further away from the ball.
Essentially, Alualu should be viewed at as a player who will serve as a big piece to the defensive line rotation no matter what. He may not be a starter due to his age, but the Jaguars know they can slot him in at both end and nose tackle, which isn't something they can say for any other player on the roster.
Considering the small price the Jaguars had to pay to obtain Alualu, this is a move that one can't really find much to poke holes at.
Alualu is a smart payer, an established leader and veteran, and fits in the scheme. Add in a reasonable deal and a reunion with two former coaches and this seems like a perfect fit for both sides.
Alualu won't be the top guy on the defensive line, but he will have a big adjustment himself since T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, and Cam Heyward will no longer be next to him. Despite this, there are too many reasons that this is a good fit to give it anything lower than A.
All things considered, this is one of the more underrated moves the Jaguars' new regime has made and a move that continues to signal the new identity they are seeking on defense.