It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
We’ll be suspending the Stock Watch series during this time, at the end of which we should have more meaningful topics to discuss once we resume, since a lot more news about free agency and its ripple effects should be current by then. In the meantime, we go back over the current makeup of the team’s roster, and assess where they are strong, or weak.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 5
T.J. Watt: Watt vaulted himself into the conversation as one of the best defensive players in the NFL with his excellent 2019 season, during which he posted a career-high 14.5 sacks, among the highest single-season totals in franchise history. His two-year total of 27.5 sacks is the most in any two-year span in team history as well. He also had a league-leading eight forced fumbles, plus four recoveries, and two interceptions.
Bud Dupree: In his fifth season, Dupree finally reached his potential as a starting-caliber edge defender, putting up 11.5 sacks with four forced fumbles and 16 tackles for loss. He is not elite, but the team seemingly intends to retain him with the franchise tag for 2020.
Anthony Chickillo: It’s widely expected that Chickillo will soon be a street free agent. After playing fewer than 150 snaps in 2019, he is due to earn $5 million as a backup in 2020.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: A delightful surprise in the 2018 preseason, Adeniyi did not make the ‘jump’ in his second year many were hoping for, partly due to an injury he suffered in training camp. He will need to make major strides this year.
Tuzar Skipper: Skipper is very much like Adeniyi was a year earlier. They’re even from the same school. He had an even stronger preseason, in fact. He made the initial roster but was waived and then claimed, eventually finishing the year back on the 53. Can he grow into a rotational contributor in 2020?
With the expected release of Chickillo, the depth at the edge rusher position is going to be razor thin if based upon experience and pedigree. Adeniyi and Skipper are both former undrafted free agents with minimal playing experience in the regular season.
Meanwhile, the team is working on figuring out how to retain Dupree, and possibly even weighing whether or not they would want to do a long-term deal with him or if they want to play out the 2020 season under the franchise tag to assure that he is ‘for real’.
The assumption is that he will be tagged and will start, leaving him and Watt, plus two variables at depth. It would be surprising if they fail to address the position in some way, but with limited resources both in free agency and in the draft, don’t count on much. Perhaps a mid-round addition would be the best hope.