The Pittsburgh Steelers entered this league year with nearly a couple dozen players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency. They ended up retaining five of those unrestricted free agents, but did not tender their one restricted free agent, who signed elsewhere.
Pittsburgh also added help from outside of the organization at tight end, tackle, linebacker, and the defensive line, but suffered several free agency losses, chiefly at cornerback and linebacker, and suffered yet another key retirement in the process. There were no significant player releases, and no contracts were restructured. They still have six unrestricted free agents who remain unsigned.
The organization has been clear throughout recent weeks that they have essentially wrapped up all meaningful free agent activities, with the focus turning to the draft, so now is a good time to take a look back and see where each position started at the beginning of the process and where it is now leading up to the draft.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason additions: 1
Offseason losses: 2
Lawrence Timmons: The first ever draft pick of the current regime, Lawrence Timmons is still chugging away, entering his 10th season, and yet he is only going to hit the age of 30 this summer. He slowed down some last year, but I have to wonder how much of that had to do with an early turf toe injury.
Ryan Shazier: While health is still a concern, Ryan Shazier displayed last season that he has the difference-making capability that the Steelers were hoping for when he was drafted. Most important to me, however, was the fact that he made strides in coverage late last season.
Vince Williams: With the defections of Sean Spence and Terence Garvin, Vince Williams ascends to the very important role of the third inside linebacker, a position that has logged its share of snaps the last two years. One might wonder if the team will begin to rotate him in for Timmons at times.
L.J. Fort: I will be very interested in monitoring L.J. Fort’s viability for a roster spot. He came in late to camp and showed well early on to earn a practice squad spot as a sixth inside linebacker, and ended the season on the 53-man roster.
Jordan Zumwalt: It’s hard to believe Jordan Zumwalt is a third-year player in spite of the fact that he has barely even played in the preseason, but he technically is, given that he spent his first two on injured reserve. Can he crack the roster now that there is an opening?
Steven Johnson: The Steelers signed Steven Johnson to a minimum contract with no signing bonus because they liked his special teams ability, serving many of the same roles as Garvin. With that known, he stands a good shot of making the roster. He has had some defensive experience as well.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Sean Spence: After spending his first two seasons on injured reserve, Sean Spence ended up playing a big role for Pittsburgh the last two years filling in for Shazier, but he never really rose to much more than average. Still, his loss was a definite blow to the depth at the position.
Terence Garvin: A special teams ace, it will be more difficult to replace Terence Garvin than Spence. But perhaps Johnson, or even Fort, could do that. At least with Fort and Zumwalt, you do have some options that have been around.
Notes and Draft Outlook: Even with the losses of Spence and Garvin, I personally don’t place the need here very high, though one has to consider that both Timmons and Williams have one year left on their deals, at least as we stand here today.
I do think the team should have little trouble getting at least one contributor between Fort, Zumwalt, and Johnson, and they only need one. But at the same time, the Steelers have never shied away from having an abundance of linebackers.