Steelers Have Big Decisions To Shape Future At OLB

Your 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers are: T.J. Watt and…?

Uh? Give me a second.

For as much history and success Pittsburgh has in finding edge rushers, beyond Watt, it’s anyone’s guess how the depth chart will look this time next year.

Bud Dupree is set to be a free agent. After picking up his 5th year option for $9.2 million and the fact he’s likely to be coming off a career year, he won’t be cheap. His price tag? At least $10 million per year, a cost the team might not be willing to invest in a player who underwhelmed until 2019. Dupree himself could move on, finding a new team and fanbase where there isn’t the pressure of being a first round pick that elicits screams of “bust” when he struggles.

Anthony Chickillo may not be on the roster for much longer and even if he is, has a contract that’s arguably too expensive to keep for next year.

Ola Adeniyi is the one pass rusher we can say with confidence will join Watt in Latrobe next year. But how the team feels about his future in an expanded role is unclear. They’ve been careful with him this season, he’s actually played fewer snaps than Chickillo despite being healthy each game, and hasn’t made much of an impact as a pass rusher. His most notable moment came on the questionable roughing the passer call against the Baltimore Ravens. Does the team view him as a #3? Eventual starter? Neither? Hard to say. Mike Tomlin’s comments about depth at the position sure isn’t a vote of confidence.

It’s not like Pittsburgh is expected to be teeming with draft capital either. As of today, they only have a second round pick on the first two days of the draft. Even if they cut Donte Moncrief by Week 10 and recoup a third round compensatory pick, pass rush options will be limited by the time draft selections reach pick 100. Nose tackle and safety are among several positions the team will have to address next April too.

Free agency may not help either. The Steelers could clear up cap space with a flurry of moves. The aforementioned release of Moncrief, Mark Barron, Chickillo, and whoever else you want to throw out there will offer some flexibility. But edge options come with a heavy tax on the market.

Even spending $4-5 million per year on a player only nets you someone in the Clay Matthews/Terrell Suggs range, two players well into their 30s, unless you happen to strike gold on someone like Shaq Barrett.

How will the Steelers solve the problem? Right now, I have no idea. In a sense, bringing Dupree back may be the most realistic option but again, he’s not going to be cheap. If he follows Za’Darius Smith’s lead, who the Green Bay Packers signed to a 4 year/$66 million deal despite having 18.5 sacks in four years with the Ravens, his cost could simply be out of the team’s price range.

Which leaves them with Adeniyi. A player who, if we’re being the most generous to the team here, someone the team doesn’t know enough about to make an evaluation of.

Or the draft, where capital is severely limited and other needs that must be addressed, or free agency, where the team’s success has been fleeting, options generally poor, and overpaying practically a requirement. All while the front office tries to maximize its two year Super Bowl window, ending in 2021, a realistic time when Roethlisberger is most likely to retire and push the team into a new era.

Kevin Colbert has his work cut out for him.

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