Player: L.T. Walton
Position: Defensive Lineman
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2019 Salary Cap Hit: $417,353
2019 Season Breakdown:
L.T. Walton was originally drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round out of Central Michigan in 2015. He made the initial 53-man roster and would never lose his job through the life of his contract, which ran through the 2018 season. In 2017, his third year, he even played his way into the second-string nose tackle job, playing in all 16 games for the first and only time in his career, and registering both of his two career sacks that year.
Despite the evident progress he had been making, he was passed up in 2018 by Daniel McCullers, another sixth-round defensive lineman the Steelers selected the year before him. McCullers had seemingly finally hat the light switched on for him with new defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, something Walton didn’t benefit from.
In fact, Pittsburgh did not even bother to offer him a veteran-minimum contract in 2019. The Buffalo Bills would eventually sign him in June, but he did not make the roster. There was a brief period of time in which it looked like he was going to be in the XFL, but the Steelers finally came calling in October.
That was after Stephon Tuitt suffered a season-ending injury. They called up Walton because of his obvious familiarity with their system. Despite that fact, they dressed rookie sixth-round pick Isaiah Buggs ahead of him.
As a matter of fact, Walton would only spend four games of the team’s 53-man roster, all of them as a healthy scratch, before suffering an injury himself, during practice of course. The Steelers would place him on injured reserve, and for the first time that I can ever recall, they played the rest of the season with just five defensive linemen.
Free Agency Outlook:
Considering the fact that the Steelers anticipate losing Javon Hargrave, I suppose it wouldn’t be a complete stunner if they decide to give Walton a one-year qualifying contract, though the fact that they had already let him go without replacing him until the draft last offseason doesn’t bode well for him.
They did re-sign Clifton Geathers a few years ago despite the fact that he never even played for them due to injury, so perhaps that is worth noting. His biggest obstacle is that he appears to be a less athletic Buggs, who has shown some promise already.
Even with Tuitt returning from injury after missing most of the 2019 season, the Steelers still only have five linemen under contract for 2020 who have NFL experience. I personally would not be at all opposed to them bringing back Walton for the minimum and letting him compete for a spot.