Although it wasn’t terribly difficult to do, we predicted that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be more aggressive than they typically are in free agency, and perhaps as aggressive as they have ever been, due primarily to two reasons: one, the handsome bag of cash Le’Veon Bell left behind, and two, the horrible finish to the 2018 season that left them out of the playoffs.
That prediction has already turned in results with the Steelers signing three players to significant contracts in Steven Nelson at cornerback and Mark Barron at linebacker/safety, as well as wide receiver Donte Moncrief as part of a multi-pronged strategy to replace Antonio Brown.
The next prediction on the table concerns the 2019 NFL Draft and the team’s likely strong desire to come out of the first round with an inside linebacker. This one has all the dots connected right to it, so if it should come to pass, there will be no patting of backs—even if the second part also proves true, which is a draft day move up the board.
So many people have narrowed in on Devin Bush as the player who should be the team’s next mack linebacker. There is a possibility that happens, as when the stars aligned for Ryan Shazier, but this time they might have to cheat a bit to align with their player of destiny.
Why are the odds better than usual? For one thing, they have addressed their other major needs already with Nelson at cornerback, Moncrief at wide receiver, Barron as the dimebacker, and by retaining Bud Dupree. Though tight end and outside linebacker could be on the board, it would have to be a best-player-available scenario.
Bush is the type of player Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert would likely classify as a ‘special’ player and one they would consider moving up to get. And they have additional resources available to them with an extra third-round pick this year, and knowing that they will likely have another extra third-rounder in 2020.
One of the last times the Steelers knew they would have an extra third-round pick, they traded the one they had for the following year for a fourth-round pick in 2013. So they are willing to move such picks if they think it can help them.
The counterargument is the simple fact that the team has never traded up in the first round in the Tomlin era, though they previously did so twice under Colbert, including in 2006 for Santonio Holmes. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been players they would have traded up for, or that they have tried to trade up for.
Ideally, Bush or Devin White will be available to the Steelers with their natural first-round pick, alleviating the necessity of making a trade, as happened with David DeCastro in 2012 (and Jarvis Jones, and Bud Dupree, two other players whom it was not clear they would be available as late as they selected). But failing that, they have the motivation and the means to intervene should fate have other plans.