Bringing Chase Winovich Home To Pittsburgh Could Be Budget Steelers’ Free Agency Move

What will the Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker room look like in 2023? We already know that the room will include the likes of the two starters, T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, but what about beyond that? Will that room include a drafted rookie? It very well could and I hope it does. But what about beyond even that? Could we see a cheapish free agent outside linebacker added to that room this offseason? I think there’s a chance of that. If that’s the plan, maybe Chase Winovich will be on the Steelers free agent signing wish-list several weeks from now.

Surely most of you reading this already know a lot about Winovich at this point, right? He is a Pittsburgher as he is from Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania. He played his college football at Michigan and wound up being selected by the New England Patriots in the third-round of the 2019 NFL Draft, 77th overall that year. After three seasons with the Patriots, Winovich was traded to the Cleveland Browns last March.

With the Browns in 2022, Winovich spent a lot of time swatting away the injury bug as hamstring issues resulted in him playing in just eight regular season games on his way to registering just 20 total tackles, one for a loss, one sack, three quarterback hits and a pass defensed in 178 snaps played on defense. He also logged 66 more snaps on special teams. Most of his 2022 snaps played, however, came in the Browns’ final four games as well.

Winovich’s 2021 season was sadly also impacted by a hamstring injury as he lost four games to that ailment as well. In short, the 27-year-old edge defender should enter unrestricted free agency this offseason with a very modest market value. He might even be looking for just a one-year deal as well with hopes that he can increase his market value in 2023 by staying healthy and serving as a backup player that can play on a few special teams units. That’s just the kind of player the Steelers might be looking for starting in the middle of March.

Dating back to his time at Michigan, the Steelers have seemed to have more than just passing interest in Winovich. For starters, the Steelers reportedly had some sort of pre-Pro Day dinner with Winovich back in March of 2019. Since then, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has talked glowingly about Winovich when asked about him.

“He’s had an awesome preseason,” Tomlin said of Winovich back in 2019, just ahead the Steelers’ Week 1 game against the Patriots. “I really have a lot of respect for him. Through draft preparation, I saw a lot of him. He’s a quality edge rusher.”

Tomlin even went as far as to compare Winovich to Watt during that Tuesday 2019 press conference as well.

“He just had a lot of traits that were similar to [T.J.] Watt,” Tomlin said. “He was mature beyond his years in terms of his skills relative to his position. His hand usage, his awareness in terms of his rush. His overall in-game awareness. His motor. He had a lot of positive attributes.”

Last season, the Steelers outside linebacker room consisted of Watt, Highsmith, Malik Reed, and Jamir Jones for most of the season. After Watt went down injured in Week 1 with his pectoral issue, Reed and Jones did very little in helping to offset the loss of the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year. Things got so bad when Watt was sidelined that rookie defensive end DeMarvin Leal was even asked to play on the edge in some personnel groupings. Reed, by the way, even found himself inactive for the Steelers’ final two regular season games because of his poor play as a run defender.

If the Steelers learned anything in 2022, it’s probably that they need to be deeper at the outside linebacker position in 2023. However, they unfortunately won’t likely have a lot of cap space this offseason to help fix that issue. That’s why Winovich might just be a potential outside linebacker unrestricted free agent target for them several weeks from now. It would make a lot of sense for both sides and could pay off if Winovich can stay healthy and play more like he did in his first two NFL seasons.

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