The Pittsburgh Steelers have a huge hole to fill at inside linebacker. This isn’t news. After Ryan Shazier’s injury which equated in spinal stabilization surgery, the Steelers had no answer to fill his vacant position.
They tried Tyler Matakevich and L.J. Fort before deciding signing Sean Spence off the couch, literally, would be their best option at the position. If this doesn’t scream the team doesn’t trust the other players on the depth chart to do the job well, I don’t know what does.
The vast majority of Steelers fans are in the same camp when it comes to the inside linebacker job. Fill it via free agency or the 2018 NFL Draft. Some, myself included, feel the team should sign a free agent and draft a linebacker as well.
However, there is a small contingent who think Matakevich and/or Fort, or a combination of the two, could fill Shazier’s spot alongside Vince Williams. And to those, I say, “No.” The Steelers’ defense is dictated on speed and athleticism, and while Matakevich might be a special teams ace, he is not the answer in the team’s defensive scheme. Fort might be a great depth player, but he has serious deficiencies in his game.
Shazier wasn’t perfect, far from it, but his athleticism and speed made up for a lot of the mistakes he made. When you don’t have that type of athleticism and speed, you are exposed — a lot. This is exactly what happened when Matakevich, Fort and Spence all to a shot at the role.
For those who love Dirty Red, sorry, but the Steelers answer to their inside linebacker woes is not currently a member of the organization.
Now time to check in on the other news surrounding the black-and-gold outside the walls of BTSC.
Given Ryan Shazier’s career-threatening injury and with Vince Williams beginning the final year of his contract, the Steelers begin the offseason with a shortage of long-term solutions at inside linebacker.
The position already is considered a point of emphasis for free agency in March and the NFL Draft in April, and the Steelers could add players from each pool of talent.
The Steelers ended the season with Williams playing alongside Sean Spence on first and second downs and L.J. Fort on passing downs. Until Shazier’s injury Dec. 4, Williams wasn’t being used as a regular three-down linebacker, leaving the field in place of slot cornerback Mike Hilton in subpackages.
NFL teams, per the collective bargaining agreement, can exercise a fifth-year option on first-round draft picks in the spring before the player enters his fourth season. The Steelers did that with inside linebacker Ryan Shazier last April, and he will count $8.7 million against the salary cap.
The salary is injury protected so Shazier will receive his money even though he is unlikely to play in 2018 because of his spinal cord injury.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Shazier’s catastrophic injury won’t alter the team’s stance on whether to pick up a player’s fifth-year option in the future. Outside linebacker Bud Dupree is a candidate in April to receive a fifth year. Next spring, the focus will be on cornerback Artie Burns.
“That’s the risk you run when you put that option into effect,” Colbert said. “Any player can get injured on any play, and that is our game. We understand that, and we understand the risk involved, and we try to make those decisions knowing that those type of things can happen.”
The franchise tag window opens Tuesday. That means the Pittsburgh Steelers have the option to place that designation on All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell any time between Feb. 20 and March 6.
The franchise tag for Bell is an estimated $14.5 million. The club then has until July 16 to negotiate a long-term contract.
According to a quick survey I conducted this weekend, working out such a deal would be an unpopular move.
Granted Twitter polls should be taken with a mountain of salt. But I posted one while hosting an ESPN Pittsburgh radio show Saturday. The results were interesting.
The question was: “What do you want to see the Steelers do with the Le’Veon Bell?”
Roughly 600 votes later, the tally read:
Franchise tag him: 31 percent
Sign him long term: 35 percent
Let him walk in free agency: 34 percent
So, while signing Bell to a long-term deal was slightly favored by the Twitter poll voters, 65 percent of presumed Steelers fans don’t want to see their team secure the services of a guy who has totaled 4,345 yards from scrimmage the past two years (including the playoffs) beyond 2018.