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: OLB Anthony Chickillo
Years Played: 5 (5 in Pittsburgh)
Snaps Played: 143 (1045 career)
When the Steelers signed Anthony Chickillo to a two-year, $8 million contract last offseason, I think many people already got the sense that he would only see the first year of that backloaded contract. As a number three outside linebacker playing behind two entrenched starters, and yes, as a special teamer, paying over $5 million is too much to ask.
In large part due to a mid-season suspension following a public domestic dispute, charges over which were later dropped, Chickillo played the fewest snaps that he has since his rookie season in 2015, previously averaging about 280 defensive snaps between 2016 and 2018—and over 300 snaps on special teams.
The latter factor is what really kept him around, because he was a core contributor in that area, but for a couple of years now, he had also been the primary reserve to both T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. That hasn’t resulted in a lot of production. He has five sacks in the past three years, and 7.5 for his career, with 11 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles, at least one of which I believe was on special teams.
Needing salary cap space earlier this year, the Steelers let him go, after he had reportedly been sought after the previous offseason by the New England Patriots. They didn’t appear to show him any interest this offseason, however, and he ended up signing with the New Orleans Saints in late May.
As for the Steelers, they now have a dearth of experience behind their starting outside linebackers, true enough. They return two former undrafted free agents with minimal experience but who offer potential pass-rushing upside in Olasunkanmi Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper.
During the 2020 NFL Draft, they used their third-round pick on Alex Highsmith, who showed up big his senior year out of a small school. He has the athleticism to develop into a legitimate pass-rushing threat, but it’s unclear what he will be able to contribute from the get-go.