2016 Steelers Pre-Free Agency Positional Review: Inside Linebacker

We’re now into March, and that means that the new league year will be upon us shortly, and when that time comes, the floodgates to free agency will open—not that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be major players when it comes to signing outside free agents, as they tend to keep themselves busy in retaining their own players.

But before we get to that period, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ offseason roster as it appears to be shaping up as we hit the start of the new league year, at which time the team will have a couple of dozen players hitting the open market.

As with every other team, the Steelers have already made some roster tweaks, signing several players to Reserve/Futures contracts, tenders, and other sorts of contract, while also making some deletions after they waived a handful of players, so here is a position-by-position look at how the team looks heading into free agency.

Position: Inside Linebacker

Total Positional Figure: 7

Additions: 0

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Lawrence Timmons: Shock and awe, Lawrence Timmons is still on the roster. Overall, his play fell off some last year, but it’s worth keeping in mind that much of that came earlier in the season, and he pretty much missed the preseason with a turf toe injury. The late-season dime package in which they took him off the field was an interesting development, and they also handed the play-calling duties to Shazier, but he is still a very good player who had five sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble in 2015.

Ryan Shazier: In spite of the fact that he missed four games, yet again, due to injury, Ryan Shazier no doubt took an encouraging step forward in his second season. He had some impressive, dynamic games over the course of the season, and while he still has some areas of improvement to work on, I was pleased with his progress in coverage late in the year.

Sean Spence: The former third-round draft pick who has half of his career thus far wiped out by injury, Sean Spence is now hitting free agency. He saw a lot of playing time as a backup in the last two years due to Shazier’s injury, but he certainly didn’t blow anyone away, even if he is a fairly solid instinctual player. If he is offered a decent contract, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Steelers let him go.

Vince Williams: Vince Williams is now heading into the final season of his rookie contract as a former sixth-round pick. Many secretly want him to succeed Timmons as the team’s buck linebacker. But will he still be with the team by that point? And is he truly a 16-game starter?

Terence Garvin: Entering his fourth season now as a former tryout signing, Terence Garvin is hitting restricted free agency, and by the sounds of it last night, we can probably expect some sort of announcement to the effect that he was either offered and signed a tender, or maybe even the team gave him a multiple-year contract. In the case of the latter, he may succeed Spence as the backup mack linebacker in addition to being a core special teams player.

L.J. Fort: A late camp signing, journeyman L.J. Fort impressed in his brief playing time enough that the Steelers stuck him on the practice squad as a sixth inside linebacker, and a 12th overall linebacker. He was promoted to the 53-man roster late in the year for special teams purposes and will be back in 2016.

Jordan Zumwalt: Jordan Zumwalt, a 2014 late-round draft pick, has spent his first two seasons in the league on injured reserve, which is probably fortunate for him because otherwise he likely would not have made the roster in either year. I’m not sure this year is different, though it would help if Spence were signed by another team.

Offseason Strategy: There isn’t a lot of strategy needed needed here, I don’t think, as in no outside help is required, at least. I would think an extension with no new money would be in order for Timmons to lower his cap hit. Then they will have to weigh Spence’s value and decide if he is worth retaining, or if they think they have enough with Garvin, Fort, and Zumwalt.

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