The Pittsburgh Steelers formally signed veteran inside linebacker Mark Barron to a two-year contract worth $12 million on March 19 last year, more than a month out from the 2019 NFL Draft, during which they made a substantial trade up in the first round to select the inside linebacker Devin Bush out of Michigan.
After one year of play, during which he started nine of 15 games and logged 750 snaps, Barron was released by the Steelers on March 16. He remained unsigned until just recently when he formally agreed to a deal to join the Denver Broncos.
Pittsburgh was in a hard cap crunch entering the new league year, and Barron wasn’t the only player they released with financial considerations in mind. They saved over $5 million by letting him go and leaving the position in the hands of Bush and Vince Williams, who had been a starter the previous two years.
He said of the end of his time in Pittsburgh, via the Denver Post, “they’re both good players and somebody had to go and they had to save money somewhere and it ended up being me. It was communicated to me that it wasn’t that my play wasn’t good enough”.
During the season, Barron recorded 82 tackles, including four for a loss, with three sacks, an interception, three passes defensed, and a recovered fumble. His play could certainly be described as spotty at best at certain times during the season, but this might not necessarily be how the team would have communicated the situation to him.
Had the Steelers not drafted Bush, they would have been in a much larger predicament. That is, after all, why they went out and signed Barron in the first place, to serve as a veteran, experienced starter while they look for another option. They found that option sooner rather than later.
As for Bush, he led the team with 109 tackles as a rookie. He also contributed to the team’s league-leading takeaway total with two interceptions and four fumble recoveries, one of which he was able to scoop up and bring into the end zone. He finished with the lead in fan voting for the Pro Bowl, though ultimately did not make it.
With Barron gone, Williams re-emerges as a central figure in the defense. When first entering the starting lineup in 2017, he posted 89 tackles with 11 for loss, with an interception and eight and a half sacks, among the highest the team has ever had for an off-ball linebacker in a single season.
In just under 400 snaps last season, the veteran still contributed 55 tackles, with four for a loss, along with two and a half sacks. One of the interesting peculiarities of his career is that, in spite of the fact that he’s such a hard hitter, he’s never actually produced a forced fumble.