The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers will use less dime defense because of Mark Barron.
Explanation: Mark Barron’s $6 million per season deal is one of the largest free agent deals in APY the Steelers have ever handed to an outsider. Barring a fast-developing first-round pick, he should start at inside linebacker, but his secondary background can also increase the defense’s flexibility.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two years in which the Steelers most used their dime defense—in 2013 and in 2018—are also the two years in which they had their worst and least athletic group of linebackers on the field. Throughout the rest of that time, they at least had Lawrence Timmons and/or Ryan Shazier.
Barron playing one of the linebacker roles can cut down on the need to add a sixth defensive back because he is more capable of fulfilling that role than most linebackers the Steelers have had in the past who would be asked to do the job.
At that point, we would be arguing semantics, as Barron could essentially be playing a ‘dimebacker’-like role, so it would be a matter of taste whether one wants to classify him as a linebacker or a member of the secondary on a given play.
While it’s true that Barron might be capable of doing certain things that are a bit outside of the norm for a traditional inside linebacker, that doesn’t necessarily mean that much of anything changes. What that does is put a more athletic inside linebacker on the field.
That is how L.J. Fort was used last season late in the year as the lone inside linebacker on the field, with Vince Williams and Jon Bostic both coming off. Barron could be used in a similar fashion this season, giving the defense the opportunity to put their best coverage players on the field.