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Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Exit Interviews: Taco Charlton and Alex Highsmith

The Steelers need production from outside linebackers other than T.J. Watt.

Detroit Lions v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL season has come to a close. Because the Steelers are among the 31 teams who did not finish fulfilling their ultimate goal, they are in the process of wrapping up their season and moving forward into 2022.

Since the Steelers conduct exit interviews with all their players, we here at BTSC thought we would do the same. By outlining two players each day, we will be able to look at their season in retrospect as well as looking toward the future. Since Coach Tomlin stated he starts his interviews with rookies, first year players, and those heading into free agency, we will do the same. To start, we will pair a potential free agent with a first-year player as we work through this process to eventually cover the entire Steelers roster.

Next up is outside linebackers Taco Charlton and Alex Highsmith.

Taco Charlton

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Position: Outside Linebacker
Years with the Steelers: 1
Years in the NFL: 5
Contract Status: Free agent
Contract Details: Expiring one-year minimum deal with no dead money.
Games played in 2021: 11 regular season, 1 postseason
Games started in 2021: 1 regular season
Snaps (regular season): 216 (defense), 11 (special teams)
PFF score: 62.3 (DNQ for ranking)
Notable stats (regular season): Charlton had 18 tackles, two quarterback hits, 0.5 sacks, and one pass defensed.

Notes: Charlton signed with the Steelers practice squad prior to Week 3 and was elevated in Week 8 when Melvin Ingram missed the game “due to injury“ before being traded. After the trade, Charlton was signed to the 53-man roster appeared in every game for the rest of the season. Having a chance to show he could still play in the NFL, Charlton should be on board to come back to the Steelers on a team-friendly deal if both sides want the relationship to continue. Charlton would do so knowing he was acting as depth and part of a rotation and would still need to earn his spot in training camp.

Alex Highsmith

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Position: Outside Linebacker
Years with the Steelers: 2
Years in the NFL: 2
Contract Status: Signed through 2023
Contract Details: $1,169,073 salary cap hit for 2022. Would cost the Steelers $416,146 in dead money if released.
Games played in 2021: 16 regular season, 1 postseason
Games started in 2021: 16 regular season, 1 postseason
Snaps (regular season): 851 (defense), 60 (special teams)
PFF score: 65.5 (53rd of 109)
Notable stats (regular season): Highsmith had 74 tackles, 15 of which were for loss, 15 quarterback hits, 6.0 sacks, and one forced fumble.

Notes: While many, including myself, were looking for Alex Highsmith to explode onto the scene in his second season, we would only be disappointed because we had the highest of expectations. Playing a little less than double the snaps he did in 2020, Highsmith tripled his sacks and his tackles for loss and more than doubled his quarterback hits from his rookie season. Although Highsmith didn’t make an enormous leap in year two, if he continues his progression into year three he would be an even bigger compliment to the other All-Pro players on the Steelers defensive front.

So what do you think? How would you conduct Charlton’s and Highsmith’s exit interview? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Make sure you check back each day for another set of exit interviews. If you have missed any of the previous articles, they are listed here:

Ben Roethlisberger & Najee Harris
Eric Ebron & Pat Freiermuth
Trai Turner & Kendrick Green
Chuks Okorafor & Dan Moore Jr.
Robert Spillane & Buddy Johnson
Montravius Adams & Isaiahh Loudermilk
Joe Haden & Tre Norwood
Christian Kuntz & Pressley Harvin
JuJu Smith-Schuster & Cody White
J.C. Hassenauer & John Leglue
Marcus Allen & Tegray Scales
James Washington & Chase Claypool