The Pittsburgh Steelers let 15 players hit the open market. Most, frankly, won’t be missed and were at the replacement-level status. Cam Thomas. Will Allen. Byron Stingily. There won’t be many memoirs written over them.
But the team is in danger over losing two inside linebackers and it’s testing their depth. Sean Spence is in Miami. Terence Garvin in Washington. If both leave, and that’s looking likely, the Steelers aren’t left with much behind their starters. The only backup with legitimate experience is Vince Williams, who, make no mistake, is highly capable and a player I’ve been a fan of since his rookie season.
But beyond that, the depth is scarce. L.J. Fort earned a small role on special teams in the playoffs after the team suffered several injuries on their third unit. Jordan Zumwalt is a 6th round pick who has never made it out of camp healthy. And that’s it, no one even currently signed to a futures deal.
The Steelers enjoyed an excellent coverage unit last year under the tutelage of Danny Smith. That was made possible by the contributions of players like Spence and Garvin, especially the latter, who teamed up with Williams to make one of the best coverage duos in the league. Now, it could be split up, and the Steelers need to find a way to make a smooth transition. No one thinks about special teams until they’re bad, and Pittsburgh fans’ are all too familiar with that over the last five years.
Losing Spence isn’t a difficult pill to swallow. As admirable as it was for him to return from his vicious knee injury suffered in his rookie year, his play has never been anything more than average. But Garvin was an ace and though special teams standouts have come and gone – Sean Morey, Clint Kriedwalt, and of course, Chidi Iwuoma – but they’re still vital to replace.
That doesn’t mean finding one is going to require a ton of energy. A low-level free agent signing, a draft pick, and the bodies will be there. But the quality? There’s no guarantee.
It isn’t particularly interesting to watch, especially as the Eric Weddle sweepstakes kick up, but it’s a situation the Steelers need to get right. If they don’t, Smith will have his work cut out for him, and it’ll cost Pittsburgh on Sundays,