Steelers offseason positional outlook: inside linebackers
Editor’s note: This is Part 9 of a 12-part series breaking down the Pittsburgh Steelers at each position in the offseason. All salary cap information courtesy spotrac.com.
It’s time for Take 2 in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quest to find a replacement for Ryan Shazier.
Last year as the offseason began, the organization still was reeling emotionally from Shazier’s serious spinal injury. Pragmatically, though, the Steelers needed to find a way to replace the inside linebacker, who was the biggest playmaker on their defense.
For whatever reason, the Steelers never really did that. The only move they made of any consequence was to sign Jon Bostic, who joined his fifth team in six NFL seasons. Bostic filled in capably enough at left inside linebacker, starting 14 games after beating out Tyler Matakevich in training camp.
But Bostic was little more than adequate (he graded out as “average” for the season by Pro Football Focus), and it was perhaps a sign of things to come when he was barely used in the season finale Dec. 30 against Cincinnati.
Other than inking Bostic to a modest two-year, $4 million contract, the Steelers did little else to strengthen the position. After none of the top inside linebackers fell to them in the first round of the draft, the Steelers did not take a linebacker with any of their seven choices.
The only other addition was undrafted rookie free agent Matthew Thomas, who tantalized and made the 53-man roster but could not get onto the field and was allowed to leave after the season ended.
The Steelers in 2018 did re-sign starting right inside linebacker Vince Williams to a three-year extension, so that spot is set through 2021. But the man who increasingly siphoned playing time away from Bostic as 2018 went on, L.J. Fort, is an unrestricted free agent. It will be interesting to see if the Steelers offer a contract of consequence to Fort, who has long been one of their core special teams players but never had a consistent role on defense until this past season.
Matakevich has filled a similar special-teams niche as Fort since being drafted in the seventh round in 2016, and he has been bypassed several times for a more prominent defensive role.
Keith Kelsey was on injured reserve last season after he spent his rookie 2017 campaign on the Steelers practice squad. The Steelers also earlier this month signed Tegray Scales to a reserve/future contract.
The importance of inside linebackers is waning in the modern pass-happy NFL (look at how many times the Steelers used six defensive backs this past season, including many who played a hybrid inside linebacker). Still, don’t be surprised if the Steelers (again) make it a priority to acquire talent at the position in the draft and/or free agency.
Up Next: Safeties
Offseason outlook: Inside linebackers
• Vince Williams, 3 years left on contract, $6.7 million cap hit for 2019
• Jon Bostic, 1 year left on contract, $2.5 million cap hit for 2019
• Tyler Matakevich, 1 year left on contract, $735,764 cap hit for 2019
• Keith Kelsey, injured reserve
• Tegray Scales, reserve/future
• Ryan Shazier, reserve/physically unable to perform
• L.J. Fort, unrestricted, $705,000 cap hit in 2018
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .