2023 Offseason Positional Review – Outside Linebacker

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 have several key players due to become free agents shortly, and a number of large contracts could be salary cap casualties, so a lot will be changing in the near future, but this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.

Position: Outside Linebacker

Total Positional Figure: 6

Additions: 0

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Under Contract:

T.J. Watt: A year after a historic Defensive Player of the Year campaign, T.J. Watt showed the Steelers just how valuable he is through his absence. He missed seven games in the first half of the season after suffering what was initially believed to be a potential season-ending injury. While he returned in the second half of the year, he was never healthy and was limited, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t return to form in 2023.

Alex Highsmith: Highsmith had a career year, though not quite in Watt’s absence, so to speak. While he still held his own during the time Watt was sidelined, he naturally benefitted from the attention the reigning Defensive Player of the Year would draw. That’s to take nothing away from what he achieved, highlighted by 14.5 sacks and a league-leading five forced fumbles.

Jamir Jones: Primarily a special teams player, Jones finished the season as the top rotational outside linebacker for want of better options. He is cheap to retain and valuable on special teams, so that was an easy decision to make as an exclusive rights free agent.

Emeke Egbule: A former 2019 sixth-round pick with limited playing experience on defense, Egbule was signed to the practice squad late in the season and re-signed on a Reserve/Future contract.

Pending Free Agents:

Malik Reed: Acquired via trade just before the start of the regular season for a swap of late-round picks, Reed proved to be a disappointment as the third pass rusher. It didn’t help that they lost Watt for most of the first half of the season, but by year’s end, he was benched. It’s rather unlikely under the circumstances that they would try to re-sign him.


Quincy Roche: Signed after the 2022 season was over, Roche circles back to the team that drafted him. He didn’t make the 53-man roster as a rookie, but played over 400 snaps after being claimed off waivers by the New York Giants. He spent most of last season on the Giants’ practice squad, however.

Deletions: N/A

Offseason Strategy:

The top priority at the position this offseason is trying to work out a long-term extension for Alex Highsmith, but that’s a matter for the summer, even into training camp and possibly right up to the start of the regular season if necessary.

Beyond that, the Steelers have to search for higher quality depth. Bud Dupree is worth at least giving some consideration to if it is possible that they can bring him back on a very affordable deal in a support role, but that won’t be his top choice. A fairly high draft pick at the position is obviously not out of the question, especially if they are unable to bolster depth in outside free agency.

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