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Figuring out the fit for Genard Avery in the Steelers defense

The Steelers added another linebacker to the roster on Monday. So which position group does Genard Avery join?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Football Team

When reports surfaced on Monday that the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a one-year deal with linebacker Genard Avery, some in Steelers’ Nation weren’t exactly sure where the signing fits into the Steelers team needs for 2022. Seeing the designation as linebacker, some may have wondered if he was in the mix to fill-in at the BUCK linebacker position on the inside. With some outlets listing Avery as a defensive end, others felt he could be a rotational piece at outside linebacker.

So what makes the most sense for how the Steelers plan to get Genard Avery involved in 2022?

First of all, before breaking into which position group Avery fits, I want to speak to his salary which has not been reported. With the contract supposedly being for one year, I expect this signing to come in as a veteran salary benefit contract. For those wondering what this means, it is a contract that is used for players who have at least four accrued seasons in the NFL. It is a one-year deal for the league minimum and up to an additional $152,500 in which they could be paid above the minimum salary for their years of service. If the salary qualifies, it would only have a salary cap charge for that of a player with two accrued NFL seasons, which is $895k for 2022. The Steelers already have several players falling into this category who will be making more money than their salary cap hit on their one-year deal, such as Trey Edmunds, Anthony Miller, and John Simon. Last season, players like Miles Killebrew and Arthur Maulet joined the Steelers on veteran salary benefit contracts.

The fact the Steelers only signed a one-year deal, with them doing all two or three year deals with the other free agent signings, I expect this was done intentionally in order to fall under this benefit. If this is the case, Avery will not even count anything against the salary cap as he will not displace a lower salary in the top 51.

Now that the possible salary ramifications are cleared up, I looked at Genard Avery‘s snap alignments according to Pro Football Focus over his four-year career. Playing 1,206 regular season snaps in four seasons between the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles, Avery aligned on the defensive line for 1,067 snaps (88.5%) and lined up in the box, meaning more of a middle linebacker, 197 snaps (8.0%). The other 3.5% of the snaps in Avery’s career came where he was classified as a corner, mostly covering the slot, for 42 snaps.

Looking at just last season when Avery played 357 snaps for the Philadelphia Eagles, he lined up in the slot twice as often as he lined up as a box defender. With 31 snaps in the slot (8.7%), Avery only saw 15 snaps (4.2%) in what would be considered a middle linebacker position. Used mostly as an edge rusher, Avery had 311 snaps on the defensive front (87.1%).

So to answer the question with a simple response, it appears that Genard Avery would be coming to the Steelers as a rotational piece at outside linebacker. Listed at 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, Avery is about the same weight as T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, although 4 inches shorter. Avery is around the same height as Steelers inside linebackers Myles Jack and Devin Bush, but when it comes to speed Avery falls somewhere in the middle with his 4.59 second 40-yard dash time when he was coming out of college.

Much like the scouting report on Avery coming out of Memphis in 2018, he actually is a prime candidate for more of a hybrid linebacker role. With the Steelers hiring Brian Flores in the offseason as a linebackers coach and defensive assistant, perhaps Avery could fill a role in this regards.

According to BTSC’s Geoffrey Benedict, he sees this as a likely fit for Genard Avery and the Steelers:

Genard Avery is somewhere between the buck and edge, and could very well fill that hybrid role under Flores. When Flores was in New England, Donte Hightower and Kyle Van Noy both lined up outside at times, and different guys in Miami moved around like that. His inside linebackers go outside and rush too. So as a backup/rotational player, it makes sense.

As Geoffrey continued with some film study for a breakdown of Genard Avery coming out later this week, he had this to say:

From what I’ve seen so far he played edge in 3-4, outside lb in 4-3 and some middle backer. They dropped him into coverage a lot. His one sack was on an inside stunt where he was ILB lined up in the center guard gap. A very Flores-like alignment and rush.

Exactly how Genard Avery fits in with the Steelers defense remains to be seen. When contract numbers ultimately come in, seeing exactly what Avery is being paid will also give an indication as to how much the Steelers plan to utilize him as they head into training camp. While he is another player to add into the mix, it is unlikely Genard Avery made a change in the Steelers projected starting defense.