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: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 5
Offseason additions: 0
Offseason losses: 0
Bud Dupree: The Steelers sort of fell into Bud Dupree last year with their first-round draft pick, and he played a significant number of snaps as a rookie. He managed to record four sacks early on, and entered the starting lineup later, but he is due for a major leap forward this season.
Jarvis Jones: It’s now or never for Jarvis Jones entering his fourth season, and the team will soon decide whether or not to pick up his fourth-year option. That should be motivation either way. I suspect the team will give him every opportunity to earn his money this year.
James Harrison: James Harrison continued to be, on a snap-by-snap- basis, one of the most productive outside linebackers in the league last season, and his play continually forced the coaching staff to keep him on the field. Even still, as good as he continues to play, he is not what he once was. But he is an influence on the rest of the group.
Arthur Moats: The veteran Arthur Moats is a reliable and consistent contributor, but not a flashy one. He will do the job, and can even start if necessary, or he can simply continue to fill the role of rotational player on both sides of the field. And that is enough to earn his keep.
Anthony Chickillo: It seems that everybody likes Anthony Chickillo, and for good reason, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he will develop into a productive outside linebacker. He is a diligent worker with an excellent motor, but I will be looking for him to show more productivity this preseason in weighing whether or not he can be a part of the answer in the future, even in a rotation. In the meantime, he should be special teams staple.
Players Lost/Not Retained:
Notes and Draft Outlook: Interestingly enough, the outside linebacker position happens to be the rare position at which the Steelers have not done anything at all this offseason, one way or another, as you can see in the list above. They did not acquire anybody new, nor sign anybody to a Reserve/Future contract, nor did they lose anybody. Yet.
Of course, we are will sort of waiting to hear from James Harrison about his future and if he will return for one more season. But whether or not he returns, one can make the argument that the position is a big 2017 need, given that he will gone by then, and so too, perhaps, will Jarvis Jones.
For me, that leaves outside linebacker very much on the table, even in the first round if the right player just so happens to be there, with certain other ‘right’ players at other positions off the board. But looking at the roster, it’s hard to envision any of them other than Dupree having much of a future in terms of developing into an impact player. And that makes it a need, no matter how many bodies are there.