The Pittsburgh Steelers came into this offseason knowing that they would have their work cut out for them when it comes to reestablishing a stable of pass rushers at the outside linebacker position, with three of their four edge defenders from last season’s roster hitting free agency.
Of the three, they re-signed one to a three-year contract, while a second retired, and the third remains a free agent at 37 years old.
The first is, of course, Arthur Moats, who one would assume needs to be penciled in right now into the starting lineup, though that status is very much pending. He would be replacing Jason Worilds at left outside linebacker, who recently announced his intention to retire in order to pursue religious work.
The final member of that triumvirate is James Harrison, who is arguably the most accomplished 3-4 outside linebacker in team history, and the author of one of the great plays of all time. And with the way that free agency has gone, it seems that he may be the best 3-4 outside linebacker left on the market.
Harrison’s agent seemed to make it clear that the former All-Pro would be limited to either a return to Pittsburgh or a reunion with Dick LeBeau in Tennessee. But the Titans went ahead and scooped up both of the last two viable outside linebacker options, leaving no room left for Harrison.
But they arguably also left no room on their board for an outside linebacker, as well. And that could apply to a lot of the teams who went pass rush shopping this offseason, which means that the Steelers stand a better chance of having one of the more heralded pass rushers in this draft class falling to them with the 22nd overall pick.
Now, I don’t think I need to do a great deal of explaining why that would be advantageous to the Steelers, who currently only have Jarvis Jones, Moats, and the current non-entities until proven otherwise, Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon.
Outside linebacker may not be the only position of need on the Steelers’ board, but it’s certainly in the top two along with cornerback. With the assumption that a flurry of them would fly off the board early, it seemed that they would be left choosing from the best remaining rushers outside of the top five or six of the group, meaning they would be better served looking elsewhere at 22.
If one or two more outside linebackers fall down the boards because so many teams looked to free agency for pass rushing assistance, then the position becomes an even more exciting option for the Steelers when their turn comes around. It could even help them double down later on in the draft.
It does seem as though Pittsburgh will have the luxury of playing the waiting game with Harrison, who appears to be down to the Steelers or retiring again, barring a change of heart that makes him willing to play elsewhere. At the very least, they can see how the rest of free agency goes and reevaluate Harrison’s position after the draft in light of their haul.