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.
The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with 19 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Two other important players have retired, so there is more shuffling of the deck than normal in Pittsburgh.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 6
T.J. Watt: Watt keeps turning in stellar season after stellar season after posting a league-leading 15 sacks last season. While his takeaway production, which is variable, dipped, his play-to-play consistency was remarkable, turning in one of the highest win rates in the league and leading in tackles for loss.
Bud Dupree: The 2021 season could have been Dupree’s best had he been able to finish it. A torn ACL left him five games short of that, with 8.5 sacks at the time. Now he hits unrestricted free agency, and likely won’t be back.
Alex Highsmith: Last year’s third-round pick, Highsmith filled in for Dupree after his injury and played well. Though he needs to build up some strength, which he cited as an area of focus this offseason, he has the makings of a future starter to be sure if he picks up where he left off.
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi: A former undrafted free agent, Adeniyi is now three years into his career, though seems increasingly likely to have been relegated into primarily a special teams player, a role he has embraced and begun to excel in over the past two seasons.
Jayrone Elliott: Elliott has spent some time on the 53-man roster in each of the past two seasons, but only on a need basis, which doesn’t bode well for his future. A veteran journeyman, he likely will be available if needed down the road.
Cassius Marsh: Signed off of the Colts’ practice squad late in the season, Marsh played ahead of the Toledo boys mentioned above once he came in, including during the postseason after Highsmith was injured. An unrestricted free agent, he said he would like to be back, and he would inevitably be cheap as depth and special teams service.
The loss of Dupree won’t be an easy blow to bear, but they prepared for this with the drafting of Highsmith last year, who looks like he has the potential to be a starter as early as this upcoming season. That leaves their quality depth somewhat thin, though.
They can address that by retaining at least one of Adeniyi, who is a restricted free agent unlikely to be tendered, and Marsh, while also taking a draft pick, perhaps on the third day of the event, but possibly earlier as well—I could see another third-round pick going here if the right name is there.