The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. One of the biggest issues the Steelers currently face is determining how best to replenish their defensive depth chart at the outside linebacker position.
In a sense, the Steelers have a bit of a luxury in that three-fourths of their pass-rushing linebackers are scheduled to become free agents, because that gives them greater flexibility to tweak a unit that produced a total of 19 sacks, of the team’s 33 total sacks on the year.
The only linebacker under contract for the 2015 season is, of course, Jarvis Jones, whom one figures has to be locked in to starter at the right outside linebacker position. He produced two sacks in his first three games before his season was derailed by injury. In other words, the jury is still very much out on him.
The biggest question the Steelers are facing at the position is whether or not re-signing Jason Worilds will be cost-effective. He has only produced 15.5 sacks over the past two years, which is not substantial production, but he is a good player.
He will not be tagged again, as he was last year, but it also seems unlikely that he will be re-signed prior to free agency. Worilds seems set to test the market, and the market will help determine whether or not he is worth re-signing, as has worked for the Steelers in the past.
Whether or not Worilds is on the roster will radically reshape what the team will do at the position from there on out. If they fail to re-sign him, it’s more likely that they will attack free agency harder in order to look for a starting-caliber player.
Failing that, perhaps they would elect to re-sign Arthur Moats with the idea of pitting him against a high-round draft pick to compete for a spot in the starting lineup. This is not the ideal solution, but it will certainly be the most affordable.
Moats, of course, deserves to be re-signed either way, as he will provide valuable depth regardless of whether or not he is in the starting lineup. Equally likely is the probability of the Steelers drafting a pass rusher high in the draft. The bottom line is that the candidates on the roster barely managed more than a sack per game. Why expect better results with the same people?