Player: L.J. Fort
Position: Inside Linebacker
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2018 Salary Cap Hit: $660,000
2018 Season Breakdown:
L.J. Fort’s NFL career began all the way back in 2012, but while he had some playing experience as a rookie with the Cleveland Browns, it wasn’t until several years later when he finally hooked up with the Steelers that he found some sense of stability.
He slowly but steadily clawed his way to a bigger role with greater responsibilities as the years progressed, beginning as a fringe option bouncing to and from the practice squad. He started to get some play after Ryan Shazier’s injury in 2017, but was still largely looked over in favor of Sean Spence.
Even though Fort was never really given the opportunity to compete for the starting job in 2018 to replace Shazier, however, he ended up taking on a bigger role late in the season over Jon Bostic, whom they signed in free agency.
Coaches have talked about Fort as a coverage option for years as one of the more athletic players that they had at the inside linebacker position, and he began to receive playing time in passing situations in 2018.
But he also showed the ability to play the run as well. Though he is limited somewhat by his size and strength (he has a hard time getting off blocks), he proved to be a more versatile defender than evidently coaches ever trusted before.
He recorded 48 tackles in 2018, more than double his previous total for his entire career. He also recorded his third sack of his career, but he surprisingly did not register any passes defensed after recording five in 2017 late in the year (including in the playoffs).
Free Agency Outlook:
Now this is a bit of an interesting question given the circumstances, but one would think that the Steelers will have interest in retaining L.J. Fort. He began to play an important role on defense as the seasons progressed, and that could be a valuable depth option even if they successfully find alternatives in the offseason.
The thing is, it is possible that other teams will also be looking at him, especially now that he has some tape out there. He is obviously not going to be anybody’s top option, but he could be a bargain alternative similar to how the Steelers added Bostic.