Putting together a team is by no means solely nor primarily about what you are able to add to the group year in and year out. More than anything, it’s about the pieces that you are able to keep together for a period of years, acquiring talent and giving them the structure to develop together into a cohesive unit.
By and large, the Pittsburgh Steelers do this better than most, and they return among the most snaps from the 2019 season as they head into this year, but they have still lost some significant players from a year ago, some of whom have been with the team for a while, like Ramon Foster, Javon Hargrave, Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and others.
Now that we’ve introduced you to all of the new faces that the Steelers have added to the team since the end of last season, it’s time to take stock of who is gone since then, and what their departure—whether by the team’s will or not—will impact their success or failure in 2020 and beyond.
Player: ILB Mark Barron
Years Played: 8 (1 in Pittsburgh)
Snaps Played: 750 (6058 career)
He may have only played one season in Pittsburgh, but that season was last year, and it was a year in which Mark Barron logged 750 snaps on defense, accounting for about 70 percent of the unit’s total snaps over the course of the year. That is a noteworthy loss regardless of playing time from one year to the next.
And the Steelers have done nothing this offseason to address the inside linebacker position, outside of the signing of Leo Lewis as a rookie college free agent. They also previously had another rookie college free agent, but he has since been released. Add on top of that the free agency departure of Tyler Matakevich.
Barron, a former first-round pick who would convert from safety to linebacker over the course of his career, was signed to a two-year, $12 million contract last offseason, a move made prior to the 2019 NFL Draft that saw them land Devin Bush via a first-round trade to move up 10 spots.
Both of them ended up as their primary inside linebackers, Barron finishing the season with 82 tackles, four for a loss, with three sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery, with three passes defensed. His playing time landed Vince Williams on the back burner, but that will now change.
Williams is a long-time reserve, but he was a primary starter in 2017-8, during which he played roughly the same amount of snaps that Barron did last year. Where Barron’s loss really hits the team is in terms of depth, now in the hands of two second-year players with no defensive snaps.
The Steelers released the veteran linebacker as a salary cap casualty, the second time in as many seasons that he has been released that offseason, but he remains unsigned since then. Given the unusual nature of the offseason, he is not the only player with a similar background who has slipped through the cracks and has so far remained unsigned, but they are beginning to land on their feet now, such as Mike Daniels, signing with the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday evening.