Chance to play for Tomlin lured Mark Barron to Steelers
If not for an injury to a Los Angeles Rams teammate in 2015, Mark Barron might not be the Pittsburgh Steelers’ newest inside linebacker.
Consider the dominoes that began toppling as a result:
• Alec Ogletree broke his fibula in Week 4 of that season, creating a void in the Rams defense that necessitated Barron switching from backup safety to starting linebacker.
• Barron led the team with 113 tackles that season. The Rams, who previously had declined his fifth-year contract option, rewarded him with a five-year, $45 million deal in the offseason. He had 117 tackles the next season and started 54 of a possible 60 games for the Rams over three-plus seasons.
• Because of that contract, which included a $3 million roster bonus this March, the Rams gave Barron his release in order to shave more than $6 million off their salary cap.
Free to choose his destination and less than two months removed from playing in the Super Bowl, Barron signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Steelers.
“I most definitely feel like it was a positive,” Barron said Tuesday at an introductory news conference. “I feel like my career has been a good career.”
It’s one that will plug Barron, 29, into the middle of the Steelers defense. After failing to adequately replace Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Shazier in 2018, the Steelers are trying again with Barron while also likely targeting the position next month early in the NFL Draft.
Thanks to his background as a safety and his 6-foot-1, 214-pound frame, Barron also can fill the hybrid linebacker role Morgan Burnett reluctantly served last season. But Barron didn’t sign with the Steelers so he can play in subpackages like Burnett did in 2018.
“I don’t think I’ll be coming off the field,” he said.
Barron’s arrival likely signals the departure of Burnett, whose release would save the Steelers at least $3.6 million and as much as $5 million if he is given a post-June 1 designation. It also probably marks the end of Jon Bostic’s one-year run as a starter.
Barron said he signed with the Steelers because of a chance to play for coach Mike Tomlin.
“With the things I heard about him, I thought it might be a good fit,” he said.
“The way he goes about things and how straight up and down he is about his work and how he handles and communicates with players,” Barron said. “I feel like I’m a similar type of person. I’m straight up and down. I like things to be on the table clear cut.”
Barron spent the first two and a half years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who drafted him No. 7 overall in 2012 out of Alabama. He was traded to the Rams during the 2014 season and was toiling in the secondary early in 2015 when Ogletree was injured.
“It wasn’t talked about or discussed,” Barron said. “They threw me out there and told me to go.”
With his background as a safety, Barron could mix his coverage skills with his smarts and technique to take down running backs.
“If a guy is going to be a smaller linebacker, he has to be tough,” Barron said. “He has to be physical. He has to be strong. He also has to be smart and understand that you are undersized, so you have to do some things differently in how you attack playing the run.
“For the most part, you have to be a pretty tough guy.”
Barron missed the first four games last season with an Achilles injury that lingered from the previous year. He had his least productive season, making 60 tackles in 12 games. Barron also started in the Rams’ postseason trek to the Super Bowl, making nine tackles in the 13-3 championship-game loss to the New England Patriots.
He would like to go one step further with the Steelers.
“I’m most definitely not the type of guy to be happy to be in a Super Bowl,” he said. “I want to win a Super Bowl if I’m going to it. … That whole experience has a negative imprint on me because we didn’t win it.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .