We should know more relatively quickly later on today, but we got a report surfacing last night indicating that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to release inside linebacker L.J. Fort, who spent most of the 2016 season on the 53-man roster and looked to have made the team again during the preseason with a solid showing.
There are a few possibilities as to why the might be released. For one thing, Stephon Tuitt suffered an arm injury and is likely to miss at least a couple of games. That could prompt a roster move in order to add help along the defensive line.
Safety J.J. Wilcox also left Sunday’s game, and while there was no official word, it’s certainly plausible that he is in the concussion protocol following a violent helmet-to-helmet hit that he was involved in at the goal line late in the contest.
Given that Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis are already dealing with certain ailments—the former seemed to be rotated in and out of the game in his first work since recovering from a hamstring injury very early in training camp—it should be regarded as well within the realm of possibility that they have an eye toward, for example, promoting Jacob Hagen from the practice squad.
I have a sneaking suspicion, however, that this is more of a routine maneuver. It would seem to me unlikely that the Steelers would want to impoverish the inside linebacker position by reducing the number of players there to three, so this could easily be swapping one inside linebacker for another.
There is a pretty obvious inside linebacker in mind, as well. After all, it’s only been a couple of days since he was on the roster.
The Steelers released sixth-year linebacker Steven Johnson in the wave of roster cuts, but they re-signed him two days later after they moved Cameron Sutton to injured reserve, knowing that they would still have to make another move to remove Le’Veon Bell from the exempt list.
Why would they have bothered to re-sign Johnson at all knowing that they were going to release him again? This could be an indication that he is the player that they intend to sign to replace Fort, and there is a logic behind it.
Johnson, unlike Fort, is a vested veteran due to his years of accrued experience. For vested veterans, their full salary for the season becomes guaranteed if they are on the opening-day roster. By cutting him and then re-signing him after Week One, they give themselves flexibility to move him again throughout the season if need be.
Remember, Johnson ultimately ‘won’ over Fort last season. The Steelers released the latter to activate Ladarius Green from the PUP List. Fort only got re-signed because Johnson suffered a season-ending injury the following week.
Last season, Johnson was active for only six games but recorded six tackles on special teams forced a fumble that the Steelers recovered. He was inactive for the first three weeks of the season, but once he got a helmet due to injuries, they kept dressing him.
It’s possible that they could also be looking to bring back Sean Spence, who was released with the final roster cuts. As a vested veteran, the Steelers would have the same reason as with Johnson to wait after the first game of the season to sign him. In the meantime, Fort would be subject to waivers.