Yesterday came the news that the Pittsburgh Steelers waived second-year linebacker Jordan Zumwalt with an injury, claiming linebacker L.J. Fort off waivers after he was released by the Patriots.
In spite of the fact that, barring injuries, Zumwalt really had minimal chance to actually make the roster, the move was a shame in that it was only made because the Steelers are low on bodies at inside linebacker at the moment. Had the position been healthy, he surely would have been a final roster cut.
Some have questioned in hindsight why the Steelers ever drafted Zumwalt in the first place, but it’s important to remember that the situation was much different prior to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Having just parted ways with starter Larry Foote following a season-ending injury the year before, the Steelers were dealing with the uncertainty that naturally comes with turnover in the starting lineup. While they addressed that in the first round with Ryan Shazier, however, there was also concern on the depth chart.
The Steelers had already cleaned house on the depth chart in 2013, with all three backup inside linebackers being new to the team. Kion Wilson was a journeyman who made the team with a strong preseason, and rookies Vince Williams and Terence Garvin both ended up making the roster.
When Foote went down, the Steelers got plenty of opportunities to see what Wilson and Williams could do in the starting lineup, and quickly settled on Williams being the better option. But they still chose more often than not to take him off the field by playing in the dime or quarters package.
Williams and Garvin in particular were unknown quantities heading into 2014. 2012 third-round draft pick Sean Spence was facing an uncertain future, not knowing if he would ever actually play again. Zumwalt’s chances of sticking with the team, in other words, looked way better at the time he was drafted.
Over the course of the past year, the inside linebacker position has solidified itself as arguably the deepest on the team, and perhaps league-wide, with at least five roster-worthy contributors including Williams, Spence, and Garvin.
Due to sheer numbers, Zumwalt was not going to make the roster unless he played out of his mind. And with the depth at outside linebacker also available, it was highly unlikely that he would even land on the practice squad either.
So it’s fair that they released him now when they needed a body to play inside linebacker with Zumwalt, Williams, and Lawrence Timmons all sidelined. Fort is simply a healthy camp body to replace Ian Wild, who has been filling in at linebacker this week in practice.
None of this is a knock on Zumwalt. He simply had a groin injury that he has never fully recovered from. He dealt with it in college, it landed him on injured reserve as a rookie, and he had surgery on it afterward. He has still been trying to work back from it this summer. If he clears waivers, he may spend another year on injured reserve.