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: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 5
Jarvis Jones: The Steelers’ 2013 first-round draft pick, Jarvis Jones is entering a critical season in his fourth year. Every season has been critical, of course, but this could be his last season in Pittsburgh. The team has to decide whether or not to exercise his expensive fifth-year option, which if initiated and he underperforms would virtually ensure that he is released before that salary becomes guaranteed. They need to find out this year if he can be a starter, and they are more optimistic than most on the outside.
Bud Dupree: On the opposite side is Bud Dupree, their most recent first-round pass rusher. His college tape lacked Jones’ production but he brought to the table everything else Jones didn’t. He played a lot and entered the starting lineup late in the season, even recording four sacks in the first half of the season, but he will be expected to take a major step forward in year two after conceding he hit a rookie wall.
James Harrison: James Harrison’s status for 2016 is to be determined, pending his ability to get himself into a shape he’s comfortable with over the next month or so, and the approval of his family. Either way, it doesn’t affect the reality that they need a long-term answer after the 37-year-old hangs it up, this year or next year.
Arthur Moats: Signed last year to a modest three-year deal, Arthur Moats is quality depth and about a replacement-level starter or better, at least in terms of the small details, although he has some pass-rush ability as well. He is a good player to have, but also one you’ll always look to improve upon.
Anthony Chickillo: Is Anthony Chickillo part of the answer going forward? Does he have much more than he showed as a rookie, entering as a third-generation player? That’s what the Steelers will need to determine.
Offseason Strategy: It’s obvious that the Steelers don’t have any certainties at outside linebacker for the long term outside of Dupree. Harrison will retire soon, Jones doesn’t appear to be emerging as a dependable starter, and Moats is who he is. With all that in mind, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them invest heavily here again if the draft board favors doing so. I wouldn’t expect any even remotely notable free agent signings, however.