Steelers 2015 Free Agency: What About Outside Linebacker?


It was gone as soon as it came. The Steelers interviewed a few corners and showed some signs of free agency life. We interviewed, assessed, kissed them at the door, and said goodnight. On the other side of the door was another team on one knee asking for I do.

Shortly after their visits in Pittsburgh, cornerbacks Patrick Robinson and Sterling Moore left the free agent market. Robinson went to the Chargers and Moore went to the Buccaneers. The other big need is outside linebacker and the Steelers have not really been part of the conversation for anyone.

Yes, the Steelers usually wait until the later weeks to get whoever falls through the cracks. This is not a normal year however. This is a year where we’re even a mediocre defense makes us Super Bowl contenders. This is a year when we have money, by our standards (How does a team this stingy during free agency end up in cap trouble every single year?). This is a year where we have big holes and no one, even prospects to step in.

The Steelers will almost definitely wait until training camp and sign Harrison to split snaps with Moats. We all like Moats, and Harrison. It could work out. The free agent market for OLB is thin right now. The remaining options are Sam Acho, Geno Hayes, Lance Briggs, and Dwight Freeney.

Sam Acho had a solid start to his career after being drafted by the Cardinals in 2011. In 2013 he broke his leg however and missed the whole season. Last year he had to enter the lineup due to injuries, other peoples’ injuries, and performed well.

This is exactly the type of under the radar sort of player the Steelers like to sign, and could sign if he continues to slip through the cracks. Like Moats he’s entering the prime of his career and by all accounts has a great attitude and work ethic, the Steelers could take advantage.

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Geno Hayes was drafted by the Buccaneers in 2008. He’s been bouncing around the league and hasn’t really had a chance to stand still. He’s been with the Bears and the Jaguars as well. He never really had a chance to shine but has shown ability when he does get in, certainly more than the blank space we have at back up OLB right now. On the negative though, he’s probably more of a 4-3 OLB who is more suited to the inside in a 3-4.

Lance Briggs is available too. He was drafted in 2003 by the Chicago Bears and we all know he had a heck of a career there. The last couple years have really been hard on Briggs with injuries and missing time. He’s also 34 right now. The guy has experience and knows the game but he’s spent all of his time in a 4-3.

I don’t expect Briggs to be signed especially with the much more viable Harrison waiting in the wings. But that still only gets us 3 outside linebackers, so there may be room for Briggs to get a few snaps.

Finally, there’s Dwight Freeney. We all know he was drafted by the Colts and had a great career. That’s exactly the problem. He had a great career. He’s 35 and has a lot of mileage. The past couple years have not been good to Freeney. However, he can still do alright in a limited pass rushing role and is a 3-4 OLB.

Again, it’s Harrison if you’re going to go for a vet. But like Briggs, he can still get limited snaps and help this young defense. Unlike Briggs, he’s a 3-4 guy and can still be mildly effective in the pass rush.

Right now the best option based on age, upside, skill set, and experience with the 3-4 would be Sam Acho. Dwight Freeney may be the darkhorse who I could actually see serving some purpose. Briggs is almost definitely not in the running due to age and being a 4-3 guy and Hayes is probably around Freeney’s likelihood if not slightly higher just due to having that journeyman mindset and still being able to contribute on special teams.  There’s also the chance of maybe taking a look at a DE to push outside.

But, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette quotes Rooney as saying,

Ultimately, the Steelers are likely to address this need in the draft. But you only get one first round draft pick and the Steelers need a CB and an OLB. Not an upgrade but just someone to fill a roster spot. Three corners and two outside linebackers do not a defense make.

If anything this list should demonstrate how thin OLB is at this point. It should demonstrate why we’re still talking to corners and not to OLBs. It’s unlikely any will be with the Steelers but it’s fun to think about, in that torturous way we’ve all been watching free agents fly off the board after all our restructuring and cap space creating.

If these guys continue to remain available and see their value drop expect the Steelers to take a look if they can get them for a bargain. They could get a look, and not necessarily because they’d be a great addition or a game changer. But because there’s only so many draft picks and there are still many blank spaces on the roster.

So if for no other reason they could get the call because it gives us time to postpone really addressing the issue until next year’s draft or free agency period. Think the flurry of vet minimum signings we made last year. Some worked out like McCain and Moats. The rest didn’t matter, because they cost us nothing. If it shakes out that any of these players offer the same in the coming weeks you may see them in the black and gold.

Next: Free Agency: Did the Steelers Blow It?

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