The Pittsburgh Steelers currently find themselves in an exploratory phase as they seek out their options on how to replace starting buck inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, and there are several options. The most immediate and readily available option to replace him is to simply plug Vince Williams into the starting lineup, but they do not seem content just yet to rely upon that.
They could use the draft to replace him, but they have perhaps an even bigger immediate—and certainly long-term—need at the outside linebacker position, and this is with consideration of the fact that they have used their past three first-round draft picks prior to last season on linebackers.
Or they could replace him the same way that they lost him—free agency. And they are bringing in for a visit a player that their defensive coordinator once “pounded the table” for in the draft room in 2012: Patriots free agent Dont’a Hightower.
Keith Butler was the linebackers coach at that time in 2012, but he admitted in training camp later that year that he wanted Hightower in that draft, with the team instead taking David DeCastro. This was just a month or so after the Steelers released James Farrior, one should keep in mind.
It is somewhat fitting that the only documentation that I can find of this quote that still exists—it was originally on a video on the team’s website, but they only retain videos for two years now it seems—is a Tweet from our own account on August 1, 2012:
Keith Butler admits was pounding on table for Dont’a Hightower during the draft #steelers
— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) August 1, 2012
What exactly does hits mean regarding the likelihood of the Steelers drafting him? The most standard logic is of course that he will price himself out of their range, but they have already failed to acquire a top cornerback that they were looking for, and they did now lose a starter. Their last two big free agent acquisitions have come after losing a starter at the position that got addressed.
The fact that Hightower is a player that Butler coveted as a position coach, and is now the defensive coordinator, is not an insignificant component in the equation as well. And the reality is that the player doesn’t seem to quite be finding the market that he was expecting, likely in part because of his size in a league that is increasingly emphasizing hybrid players who can cover shifty running backs and even wide receivers.
Okay, so I’m not exactly saying that you should get your hopes up that Hightower is going to get locked into the building until he signs a contract—in fact, I suspect that a large number of regulars here would rather that money be used elsewhere—but the interest does seem to me legitimate.
If there is one position that the Steelers clearly value, it’s the linebacker position. They just lost a starter and the last time they did that they drafted Ryan Shazier. There is some smoke, but once it clears, there may well be nobody standing there.