When the Pittsburgh Steelers lost inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Tyler Matakevich to injuries last season, one would have thought that fellow inside linebacker L.J. Fort would have benefited greatly when it came to playing time on defense. While Fort did ultimately start playing more on defense in Week 10 and on, he was mainly used in sub packages just the same. In fact, inside fellow linebacker Sean Spence, who was signed off the streets following the team losing Shazier and Matakevich to injuries, ultimately played more than twice as many snaps than Fort did.
With Shazier sidelined for the entire 2018 season with his spinal injury the Steelers decided to sign veteran free agent inside linebacker Jon Bostic to a two-year contract in March with the notion that he’d help the defense absorb the loss of one of their top players. While The Steelers didn’t ultimately draft another inside linebacker this year, they did sign undrafted free agent Matthew Thomas out of Florida State and the current speculation is that he has a great shot at making this year’s 53-man roster as a rookie. Add in the fact that Matakevich is now back fully healthy again after having offseason shoulder surgery and it makes you wonder if Fort might just have another uphill battle on his hands this year during training camp.
While Fort hasn’t played extensively on defense during his time spent on the Steelers 53-man roster over the course of the last two seasons, he has logged more than his fair share of special teams snaps. During that span of two seasons Fort registered 11 total tackles on special teams with 9 of then coming during the 2017 season.
Last year, the Steelers opening their regular season with just four inside linebackers on their 53-man roster with Fort being No. 4. If they ultimately decide to keep that same amount of inside linebackers in 2018, the battle for the fourth and final spot on the depth chart at that position might just be between Fort and Thomas. If, however, the Steelers ultimately decide to open the 2018 season with five inside linebackers on their 53-man roster like they did in 2016, Fort’s chances of being one of them would obviously be better.
In essence, the remainder of this offseason could be a make-or-break one for Fort when it comes to his NFL career as he’s likely out of practice squad eligibility at this point now that he has three accrued seasons under his belt. It will certainly be interesting to see how the rest of this offseason plays out for the Steelers inside linebacker group. With that said, Fort might be hard player to cut come September due to his defensive playtime experience in addition to his special teams abilities.
Fort, by the way, is currently scheduled to earn a base salary in 2018 of $705,000.