The Pittsburgh Steelers had a rather active three days of free agency, including the two days leading into it, re-signing four of their own players, while also bringing in a new tight end from the outside. Other than making the Ladarius Green signing official, yesterday was pretty quiet, but later in the day reports surfaced that the team could be interested in adding depth to the edge defender position.
And the name that they were connected to was Jason Jones, a former 2008 second-round draft pick who has played primarily in a fairly traditional 4-3 defense over the course of his career—which is precisely what makes his name surfacing so intriguing, at least schematically.
You see, it has become obvious over the course of the past season under the ‘new’ defensive regime that the Steelers are evolving schematically, and now feature what is essentially a nickel 4-3 look as their base defense, or rather a 4-2-5, with two 3-4 defensive ends and two 3-4 outside linebackers serving as the four-man front.
Quibble all you want about what is ‘true’ or not and whether not it is essential for a player to be aligned in a three-point stance to be included in the front-line tally; the bottom line is that the Steelers now primarily use a four-man front in a way that is not unlike a 4-3.
If you think I’m going off the deep end here, consider what Kevin Colbert said himself last month about how the increased reliance upon sub-package football could alter their evaluations: “maybe a kid that we wouldn’t look at in the past as a 4-3 end, now we can because he’ll be a sub-package rusher, which is on the field three-quarters of the time”.
Now, Jones isn’t exactly a kid—he’ll be turning 30 during the offseason—but he is at least a proof of concept in the Steelers’ potential interest in adding a legitimate 4-3 end to serve as a legitimate 4-3 end in their four-man front during sub-packages.
It’s worth pointing out that the team added the 6’4”, 269-pound Bud Dupree to the outside linebacker group in the first round last year, who is virtually the size of a 4-3 end. A player such as Jones—6’5”, 275 pound—bookending him on the other side as a specialist pass rusher would be an interesting wrinkle for the Steelers.
Jones is also a player that they would likely also use inside in sub-packages, and perhaps even at end in their base defense to help spell their starters, which is certainly a need after seeing the workload that they were put through during the course of the 2015 season.
While he is not exactly an All-Pro by any means—he started 15 games in a rotation for the Lions last year, playing under 600 snaps, registering 4.5 sacks—he is one of the best remaining edge defenders in this free agent class, along with Robert Ayers most recently of the Giants—at least among those without major character concerns, such as a certain player in Dallas, and another most recently in Oakland.