The Pittsburgh Steelers carried five inside linebackers into the 2018 regular season, and remained at that number for most of the year, though they did eventually release undrafted rookie Matthew Thomas and finished the year with four. At the moment, however, only three of those linebackers are under contract.
Those would be Vince Williams, the starting buck who is under a long-term contract; Jon Bostic, a six-year veteran free agent signing in 2018 who began in a starting role but played less late in the year, under contract through 2019; and Tyler Matakevich, a career special teams player who is in the final year of his rookie deal.
The odd man currently out is the oldest player in the group, L.J. Fort, who in spite of the fact that he originally played in the 2012 season is only becoming an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career now, and not because he ever signed a contract extension.
Fort bounced around the league after his rookie season with the Cleveland Browns in 2012 before hooking up with the Steelers a few years ago, where he has accrued the three additional seasons necessary to reach unrestricted free agent status.
“It’s wild. Seven years in the league, and this is the first time I have been a free agent”, he sad in looking back on his NFL career to date. “I’ve never been through this situation before, so this is new to me. Hopefully, things work out”.
The Steelers figure to have interest in re-signing him after he carved out a defensive role for himself in 2018, even being used as the lone true linebacker on the field in their popular dime defense over both Bostic and Williams.
“There was a stretch there where I feel like we made some adjustments that enabled not only myself but the other linebackers to be more successful”, he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “But experience always helps a ton, so playing those few games definitely made me a lot better player”.
But the question is, could other teams possibly be interested in taking a look at him? Inside linebacker is already a top priority for the team to address this offseason, so they may be reluctant to get into a bidding war for somebody like Fort when they are in the market for a legitimate long-term starting option either in free agency or the draft—or potentially even both.