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3 Free Agents the Steelers should consider at each position: Linebacker

The Steelers have more money than usual to use in free agency, and here are some players they should consider spending it on.

New England Patriots v New York Jets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

NFL free agency is right around the corner, and the 2022 free agent class is a strong one. Considering the Steelers will have more money than normal to work with in free agency, there are likely to be more roster moves than normal this March. With excitement raging among the fan base, it is time to take a closer look at which free agents the Steelers should consider signing.

Between now and the middle of March, I will be breaking down each position’s outlook in free agency, listing the top players at each position and determining which ones make the most sense for the Steelers. Today, we will be looking at a position group the Steelers will likely look to add someone at this offseason: linebacker.

As it currently stands, the Steelers have an estimated $29,598,950 to spend, and that number will likely grow. Potential cut candidates Joe Schobert, Zach Banner, Chris Wormley, Joe Haeg, and Derek Watt could free up as much as a combined $20,584,352 in the event each player was cut. It is true this team has plenty of needs, but it is encouraging to know several of these needs can be filled with quality free agent signings, thanks to the unusually large amount of cap space.

Let’s dive into the linebackers!

Outside Linebacker

Here are the top ten free agents at outside linebacker based off 2021 average annual value, per Spotrac.

Von Miller (Age: 32)
Chandler Jones (Age: 32)
Anthony Barr (Age: 29)
Hasaan Reddick (Age: 27)
Nicholas Morrow (Age: 26)
Melvin Ingram (Age: 32)
K.J. Wright (Age: 32)
Dennis Gardeck (Age: 27)
Eric Wilson (Age: 27)
Kamu Grugier-Hill (Age: 27)

Harold Landry, Uchenna Nwosu, and De’Vondre Campbell were not inside the top ten, but all three will likely see sizable contract offers when free agency begins.

The Steelers’ current depth chart at outside linebacker is as follows:

T.J. Watt (under contract through 2025)
Alex Highsmith (under contract through 2023)
Derrek Tuszka (listed as defensive end; under contract through 2022)
Taco Charlton (listed as defensive end; unrestricted free agent)
John Simon (listed as defensive end; under contract through 2022)

Inside Linebacker

Here are the top ten free agents at outside linebacker based off 2021 average annual value, per Spotrac.

Anthony Hitchens (Age: 29)
Dont’a Hightower (Age: 31)
Jarrad Davis (Age: 27)
Jayon Brown (Age: 27)
A.J. Johnson (Age: 30)
Christian Kirksey (Age: 29)
Anthony Walker, Jr. (Age: 26)
Leighton Vander Esch (Age: 26)
Rashaan Evans (Age: 26)
Jon Bostic (Age: 30)

The Steelers’ current depth chart at inside linebacker is as follows:

Devin Bush (under contract through 2022)
Joe Schobert (under contract through 2024; likely cap casualty)
Robert Spillane (restricted free agent)
Ulysees Gilbert (under contract through 2022)
Buddy Johnson (under contract through 2024)

Based on the current Steelers depth chart, I would expect the Steelers to give a long look at inside linebacker this offseason, as Joe Schobert is likely to be cut. Buddy Johnson is a complete unknown heading in year two, and the Steelers have no other competent candidates on the roster to play in a BUCK role alongside Devin Bush. At outside linebacker, the depth is not as bad as many people perceive it to be. If the Steelers did nothing more than add someone in the later rounds of the draft, I would still feel confident in that position group going into 2021.

With that in mind, here are three free agent linebackers I believe the Steelers should consider in free agency.

Dont’a Hightower

The last time Hightower was a free agent, rumor had it that the Steelers were about to sign him, but after talking it over with Bill Belichick, he decided to return to New England for less money than the Steelers offered him. That may have left a poor aftertaste in the Steelers’ mouth, and I cannot say whether or not the Steelers would consider such a move this time around, but he is exactly what this defense could use at linebacker. He is a true thumper who does a great job shedding blocks and getting to the ball carrier. The only concern is that the Patriot linebacker is 31 years old and on the back nine of his career. Nonetheless, the experience, leadership, and consistent production of Hightower would do wonders for this defense.

Jarrad Davis

Davis missed a good chunk of the 2021 season with the Jets due to an ankle injury, which will likely keep his price low in free agency. However, he is a player the Steelers showed interest in back in 2017 when he was coming out of Florida. At 6’1”, 245 pounds, Davis does not bring the length that would be ideal next to Devin Bush, but he displays good range and has improved greatly against the run since his college days. He still struggles to get off blocks on occasion, but he is quick to shoot gaps in the run game while also displaying great range in coverage. I also like the fact that Davis is versatile enough to play in either a MACK or a BUCK role. If Devin Bush were to go down with an injury yet again, he would be a much more competent replacement than anyone else currently on the Steelers roster. Keep an eye on Davis as a potentially cheap signing in the second wave of free agency.

Rashaan Evans

Seeing a pattern here? Evans was yet another prospect the Steelers showed significant interest in. In fact, reports surfaced after the 2018 NFL Draft that Kevin Colbert tried to trade up to grab him but could not find a trade partner. Evans entered the league as someone expected to play the MACK linebacker position, but after a slow start to his career, the Titans moved things around on the defense and placed him in the BUCK linebacker role. As it turns out, that role suited him better, and he became a nice complement to Jayon Brown’s skill set. With the coaching of Brian Flores, Evans could finally blossom into the high-profile linebacker we expected him to be coming out of Alabama.

Other potential signings: Oren Burks, L.J. Fort

Ideal Scenario: Steelers release Joe Schobert and wait for the first few days of free agency to play out before signing someone. This seems to be a relatively deep position in free agency, and with the deep draft class to follow, I could see several of these prime targets becoming cheap enough for the Steelers to consider if they are still sitting on the market after the first few days.

Which free agent linebackers would you like to see the Steelers target in free agency? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and stay tuned to BTSC for everything you need to know as we approach free agency.