Steelers teammates reflect on Stephon Tuitt’s retirement following 8 NFL seasons

Cam Heyward was hoping Stephon Tuitt, his teammate for the past eight seasons, would return to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice facility just one time this spring.

Once inside, Tuitt would be embraced by his teammates. The affection he would receive would be enough to convince the 29-year-old defensive end to play again following a one-year absence from competition.

“The main thing is if you get in the locker room and feel the brotherhood, feel everybody is here for you,” Heyward said Thursday. “It wasn’t just myself (that felt that way).”

Heyward, the most tenured Steelers player following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, said veteran nose tackle Tyson Alualu, position coach Karl Dunbar, coach Mike Tomlin and former general manager Kevin Colbert shared the belief that Tuitt’s passion for football would be rekindled once he returned to the locker room.

“We all went out of our way to make sure Tuitt knew that,” Heyward said.

It didn’t matter. Tuitt announced Wednesday his decision to retire.

Tuitt never did show up for voluntary workouts at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. When those workouts began two weeks ago, Heyward and Alualu were confident Tuitt would return eventually, if not at OTAs, then at mandatory minicamp next week.

“As an athlete, as a football player, this becomes our safe haven toward a lot of things,” Alualu said. “We wanted to get him around the guys that he can lean on.”

Alualu, who, like Heyward, kept in regular contact with Tuitt, learned a few days before the official announcement that Tuitt would not be returning for a ninth NFL season.

“When we found out, we were kind of caught off guard,” Alualu said. “Like I have always said, as long as he’s good, we’re good. Selfishly, we want him here on the team. He makes us that much better, but if he’s in a good place – and when we talked to him, he sounds at peace – we’re happy for him. ”

Chris Wormley spent only one year on the field with Tuitt. He joined the Steelers in 2020, the year Tuitt amassed 11 of his career 34 1/2 sacks.

“I was a little stunned just because I knew how good he was that last season he played, a lot of career highs,” Wormley said. “I wish him well. I hope his next chapter in life is everything he’s hoping for. ”

Tuitt’s retirement came almost a year to the day after his younger brother, Richard Bartlett III, was killed in a hit-and-run incident in Georgia. When Tuitt reported to training camp last July, he was limited to conditioning exercises before opting to have surgery on his knee.

He spent the entire season on injured reserve recovering from his injury and grieving his family’s tragic loss. Tuitt then returned to Notre Dame, where he once starred on the defensive line, to complete his bachelor of arts degree in psychology.

Tuitt graduated May 15. Until this week, though, he contemplated returning to the Steelers for the final year of his five-year, $ 60 million contract.

“He said it was 50-50, going both ways,” Heyward said. “I think we can all agree what he’s been through is not easy. Every day it’s a different battle. He thinks the best thing for him and his family is to go through retirement.

“I can’t be mad at a guy for not wanting to come back. It’s just unfortunate. I’ll look like a liar (for saying Tuitt would return). I don’t give a damn. But, man, I’d have loved to have him back. ”

Tuitt’s final season with the Steelers turned out to be his best. Even though he wasn’t selected to the Pro Bowl in 2020, Tuitt’s emerged as one of the NFL’s most disruptive pass rushers.

“To witness it first hand, he is one of the most athletic, talented defensive linemen I’ve been around,” Alualu said. “Certainly, his talent speaks for itself, but he’s one of those guys that when you see him make plays, you want to feed off his energy. That’s what he brought as part of his game: relentless, physical. That is definitely going to be missed. ”

Heyward’s memories of Tuitt date to when they grew up in separate communities in the Atlanta suburbs. Four years younger than his Steelers teammate, Tuitt played basketball with Heyward’s brother, Corey.

“He was the kid on the Game Boy in the back, being quiet,” Heyward said. “He really came out of his shell. To see the type of man and type of teammate he became, I was able to rely on him so much. We are able to do a lot of special things. Obviously, we didn’t win a Super Bowl together, but we created a lot of havoc, and we had fun doing it.

“We got to watch our kids become friends, and our wives are pretty close. Those are things I appreciate, and those aren’t going to stop now. ”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at jrutter@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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