Player: L.T. Walton
Position: Defensive Lineman
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2018 Salary Cap Hit: $599,232
2018 Season Breakdown:
2018 was not the season L.T. Walton was looking for in his contract year, that’s for sure. The 2015 sixth-round draft pick had been picking up steam over the course of the previous two seasons in terms of playing time, but that all fell by the wayside, and it had nothing to do with adding players to the position.
In fact, the six defensive linemen that the Steelers had in 2017 were the exact same that they had in 2018. The only difference was that Walton was held in lower esteem, at least by contrast. Whether it was more internal motivation or the change at defensive line coach from John Mitchell to Karl Dunbar, it was fifth-year nose tackle Daniel McCullers who was dressing ahead of him.
Those roles had previously reversed, and in fact Walton had even been being used on the interior, in the 3-4 defense, as the nose tackle. That is not his ideal position, but the Steelers were more comfortable with him doing that in 2017 as the backup to Javon Hargrave than they were in watching McCullers try it for another year.
Walton dressed for all 16 games in 2017. He dressed only in two in 2018, and that was for the two games in which Stephon Tuitt was injured. He recorded a total of two tackles, but he also had a pass defensed. He does have three passes defensed in his career, which is notable given his relatively sparse playing time.
Free Agency Outlook:
When you lose your place on the depth chart to somebody who was already behind you the previous season, even though he had been in the league longer than you, it’s hard to imagine a path back up. Even though all three of the Steelers’ backup defensive linemen are slated to hit unrestricted free agency, don’t be surprised if Walton doesn’t get even a qualifying offer from Pittsburgh as they look to upgrade.
With Dunbar now in his second season with the Steelers, he could have a bigger hand in making determinations about what he is looking for from his defensive linemen, which is significant given the decades under which linemen had been scouted and trained under Mitchell.
There’s that change, and also the fact that the game has simply changed. Walton is a solid run defender in sub-packages and as an end in the 3-4, but he offers next to nothing as a pass rusher, and that is no longer good enough, at least for a lineman who expects to dress consistently on Sundays.