Admittedly, I do make fun of the non-stop “transaction porn” that has become the dominant identity of Steelers media and fans.
“Does it make sense for the Steelers to kick the tires on...blah, blah, blah?”
But while I may get a little tired of the constant trade/sign/cut/fire talk, there is no question that the Steelers, like every other team in the NFL, are constantly looking to upgrade their roster.
One part of the roster that has needed an upgrade for quite a while is the depth at outside linebacker behind both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
The Steelers tried to fill that void late last summer by trading a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Broncos for the services of Malik Reed. Reed seemed like he had the potential to be a damn-fine backup. No, he didn’t have the resume of a Melvin Ingram—15 sacks in three seasons with Denver—but he had a combined 13 sacks in his final two years while starting a total of 26 games.
Therefore, there was cautious optimism Reed would be able to fill some of the pass-rushing void that opened up when Watt went on the IR after suffering a pectoral injury in Week 1.
Reed didn’t fill the void. Instead, at 6-2 and 235 pounds, he appeared to fall right into the void while recording just one sack in 2023.
Highsmith (14.5 sacks) and Cam Heyward (10.5 sacks) did their parts to fill the void, but they were already starters. Nobody else on the roster even came close to picking up the slack, especially the reserve outside linebackers.
If only Pittsburgh had a James Harrison-type or a Melvin Ingram-type, a reliable veteran with a great track record who a team could call on to perform in a pinch.
If only those guys didn’t come with massive egos and weren’t resistant to accepting their reserve roles.
What does one do? Does one try to fill the void with a mid-round rookie, a youngster with potential or a veteran with a track record?
To Omar Khan’s credit, he rolled the dice last week by signing Markus Golden, a veteran with a great track record who the team can probably rely on in a pinch.
About that track record: Golden, a second-round pick by the Cardinals in 2015, has 47-career sacks. He’s had three standout seasons in that regard—including 12.5 sacks in 2016; 10 sacks as a member of the Giants in 2019; and 11 sacks during his second stint with Arizona in 2021.
Golden is 32, which means he’s a veteran, but he’s also still young enough to possibly think that he should be starting somewhere. Ingram was 32 when he signed with the Steelers two summers ago. Harrison was older than that during his last tour with Pittsburgh in 2017.
Both veterans were so dissatisfied with their playing time that they passively aggressively got themselves traded and cut, respectively.
Golden isn’t nearly as decorated as Ingram or Harrison. In fact, according to his Wikipedia Page, he’s not decorated at all. He’s never made a Pro Bowl. He’s never been named an All-Pro. He’s certainly never been voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Perhaps Golden is the perfect “tweener” in that he’s just productive enough to be reliable but not so productive (and decorated) that he could never truly accept his role as a backup getting limited reps throughout a season.
We won’t know if Golden will be a hostage or volunteer until probably midseason, but the Steelers were never going to have the type of depth they desired at outside linebacker without taking a chance on a quality veteran.
The Steelers took that chance by signing Markus Golden, and you have to give them credit for it.