The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Will the inside linebacker position be in play during the 2017 NFL Draft with an eye toward finding a starter?
The Pittsburgh Steelers had a relatively uneventful free agency period. They added a couple of solid depth players and lost a couple of solid depth players. The exception was the loss of 10-year veteran starting inside linebacker and former Pro Bowl talent Lawrence Timmons, who signed two-year contract to play for the Dolphins worth $12 million, nearly all of it guaranteed.
That was a bit too rich for Pittsburgh’s blood, apparently, to pay for a fading starter on the wrong side of 30 at inside linebacker, so they moved on. They kicked the tires—pretty hard—on arguably the top name at the position in free agency, but didn’t land him. General Manager Kevin Colbert suggested that effort was a product of, essentially, money not spent elsewhere, e.g. cornerback, when they failed to land a top player there.
Otherwise, he said, they are comfortable moving forward with Vince Williams, and cited their two-year contract extension that they signed him to in August last year as evidence of that point. But should the Steelers take an inside linebacker in the first round, with Haason Reddick being the obvious name that sticks out, it would not be the first time that the team pulled the rug out from under him.
In 2014, Williams entered his second offseason with the expectation that he would enter the process as the starter after he assumed that role due to Larry Foote’s injury the year before. Foote was released the following offseason. But instead of turning to Williams, they drafted Ryan Shazier and plugged him into the starting lineup with his first practice.
The Steelers have shown that they hold the inside linebacker position in high value with the pedigree that they have placed there over the years. Their pursuit of the position in free agency adds to that fact. And Williams has never started more than a couple games in a row. All this begs the question of whether or not we should prepare to hear an ILB called with the 30th pick if the chips land in a way that facilitates it as a possibility.