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 more than a dozen players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement looms large over all discussions for the foreseeable future.
Position: Outside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 6
T.J. Watt: Becoming the seventh player in team history to be named the Defensive Player of the Year Award was significant for Watt. So was the opportunity to tie the NFL’s all-time single-season sack record. But he would have traded all of that in a heartbeat for a Lombardi. His ultimate goal is being a game-wrecker, and that needs to lead to more wins, especially in the biggest games.
Alex Highsmith: The second-year player was not dealt the fairest hand of all. As he prepared to enter the starting lineup on a full-time basis, Highsmith suffered a groin injury leading up to the season opener, and that injury likely nagged him throughout the year. He was able to come on a bit down the stretch, and he finished the season with six sacks, but there’s still a good amount of untapped potential in this man.
Taco Charlton: A former first-round pick whom the Steelers initially picked up on the practice squad, Charlton began playing a larger role on defense when Melvin Ingram was traded. Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent next week, he is likely a player the team would like to re-sign on the cheap.
Derrek Tuszka: Tuszka was arguably the team’s number three outside linebacker after Ingram left, and he did manage to pick up a couple of sacks along the way, growing stronger as the year went on. He ultimately played 247 snaps, but anybody suffers in comparison to Watt.
John Simon: A name Steelers Depot readers once upon a time were likely quite familiar with, the 31-year-old edge defender found his way to Pittsburgh late in the 2021 season. He dressed for one game, playing 11 snaps and recording no stats, but he has over 3,000 snaps in his career. He signed a Reserve/Future deal at the end of January.
Delontae Scott: Signed to the practice squad prior to the start of the regular season from outside the organization, Scott spent the majority of the season there and was signed to a Reserve/Future deal at the end of the year. The 25-year-old was elevated for one game, garnering all of seven snaps with no statistics.
While the starting positions are obviously secure, and arguably in good hands, the entirety of the rest of the depth chart is up for grabs. Somebody like Tuszka or Simon, already under contract, could potentially make a solid number four, but one would imagine that the Steelers would like to upgrade the top reserve position here.
That is, after all, why they went out and got Ingram last year. Ideally, you want somebody you can put on the field where there isn’t going to be a very clear drop-off in play. 4-3 teams are more likely to have a robust rotation on the edge, but it can be done in a 3-4, as well. Especially since most of it is nickel with a four-man front, anyway.