The Pittsburgh Steelers finally got busy on the eve of the new league year, which starts this afternoon, with the first order of business coming in the form of announcing a new three-year contract for outside linebacker Arthur Moats worth $7.5 million.
Moats, of course, was originally signed by the Steelers last offseason as a free agent, brought in on a one-year veteran-minimum contract. Due to the nature of the way the season developed due to injury, the former Bill ended up playing a much more substantial role than anticipated.
Not that he was ever brought in merely to be a warm body. Due to the team’s level of comfort in his ability to flip to either side, the Steelers only carried three outside linebackers on the opening day roster, and Moats was already logging a series or two rotating with starter Jarvis Jones on the right side.
But Jones went down in the third game of the season, and, at least early on, it was mostly up to Moats to fill that void. He even recorded his first sack as a member of the Steelers filling in for Jones in the second half of that game.
While the Steelers re-signed James Harrison in the week between the third and fourth game, the coaching staff did leave Moats installed as the starter for the majority of the rest of the season, and there was nothing in his performance indicating that he didn’t deserve to be in the starting lineup.
In fact, with their rotational snaps, both Moats and Harrison ended up staying relatively fresh and productive as pass rushers. The two combined for 9.5 sacks in less than a full season, to go along with relatively consistent pressure in terms of hits and hurries.
The Steelers’ signing of Moats, above all else, gives the Steelers some flexibility. It takes off some of the immediacy of need at the outside linebacker position, now that they have two players at the position with starting experience.
If need be, the coaching staff believes that they can get by with Moats in the starting lineup, but they also know that he is not a player who will sour if he can’t start. I think the nature and total value of his contract reflects that.
Thus, while the situation is now less critical at the position, the Steelers can still pursue a starting strong-side linebacker, perhaps even Jason Worilds, which the more slender Moats is not ideally suited to perform, even if it play against the run was above the line.
Failing that, however, it would not be surprising to see the Steelers draft a couple of pass rushers and have them rotate in, which is what Worilds was a part of in his rookie season.
Of course, they could also re-sign Harrison and have him flip over to the left side. They will have Moats in place to spell both Jones and Harrison in that case, keeping everybody fresh without a significant drop in performance, which could be key given the injury history of the former and the age of the latter.