Steelers 2014 Roster Projections: Inside linebackers

USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker Larry Foote made himself a leader by only playing in a handful of snaps in 2013. With two years left on his contract, will he be retained?

The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who will be unrestricted free agents when their currents contracts expire March 21, so management has quite a few decisions to make before the roster is set.

Here is a position-by-position look at the current players and what could occur during the upcoming months. This 10th story looks at the inside linebackers.

PITTSBURGH -- There are several question marks with this group, as Larry Foote and Sean Spence are coming off surgeries, and veteran Lawrence Timmons is the only sure thing as a playmaker. There also are two players coming off rookie seasons and two veterans who primarily have been special team players.

Timmons got a six-year, $50 million contract in 2011, so he has three seasons remaining at $6.75 million this year, $7.5 million in 2015 and $8.75 million in 2016. Timmons will be an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Entering his eighth NFL season, Timmons will be just 28 before he goes to training camp. And with four straight quality seasons, the durable Timmons -- just two games missed in seven seasons -- has shown no signs of slowing down.

Timmons had 126 tackles last year, including 86 solo, with three sacks, six pass breakups, two interceptions and one forced fumble. In the past six seasons, since his playing time increased, Timmons productivity included 26 sacks, 32 pass breakups, nine interceptions with one for a touchdown, 11 forced fumbles and a boatload of tackles with a high mark of 135 (96 solo) in 2010.

Foote has two years left on the contract he signed before last season when his arm injury in the opener cost him what would have been a 12th NFL season. If Foote is brought back, he is scheduled to make $1.5 million this year and in 2015. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2016, but won't make it that far.

That's not saying he won't return this year, because Foote worked extremely hard to rehabilitate his injury. Not only did he spend a lot of time at the facility, Foote was a fixture in the locker room, more than any other injured player in recent memory. One more season, if the Steelers believe he can still play, isn't out of the question and certainly not too expensive, either.

That could change if the club believes that Terence Garvin and Vince Williams can build on what they accomplished as NFL rookies. Garvin played in 15 games, primarily on special teams, but started late in the season and tallied 11 solo tackles. He will make just $495,000 this year and will be an exclusive rights free agent in 2015. Garvin should be a big contributor in the future.

A starter in 11 games as a rookie, Williams tallied 53 total tackles with 40 solo stops. He was a solid special teams performer as well. Williams also could be key performer in the future for the Steelers. He also will make $495,000 this year, $585,000 in 2015 and $675,000 in 2016 before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Williams faded a bit down the stretch, but he played a lot as a rookie and can only get better.

Spence is a wild card among inside linebackers. He has missed the opening two seasons in his NFL career due to injuries. He had knee surgery in the preseason in 2012 and missed his rookie year. He attempted to come back at midseason in 2013, but broke his arm during his first practice week.

It was a shame, after all the hard work he put in and miraculous recovery that he made just to get back on the field. It's difficult not to root for this guy, but this likely is his last chance. Spence is scheduled to make $590,000 this year and $680,000 in 2015 before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2016.

The two other players under contract are Kion Wilson and Dan Molls, who signed reserve-future contracts after the season. Then, there's Stevenson Sylvester, who is an unrestricted free agent. The often-injured Sylvester was cut this year after several unproductive seasons, but he was brought back after some injuries. He actually played well after that, but isn't likely to be re-signed.

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