Why Steelers must cut Mark Barron and draft a linebacker in 2020

Mark Barron is due a large sum of money in 2020. Here’s why the Pittsburgh Steelers should cut him and draft an inside linebacker this April.

The Steelers have a lot of difficult choices to make this offseason – beginning with what to do with edge defender, Bud Dupree. The former 2015 first-round pick is due for a massive contract extension, and Pittsburgh may not be the team to give him one.

Outside of Dupree, there are several positions that desperately require added depth, and there are a handful of cuts that need to be made this offseason. One of those should be linebacker, Mark Barron.

Barron was signed to t a two-year deal by the Steelers last season. The veteran linebacker was brought in to add speed to the defense and to start at Mack linebacker while Devin Bush had time to develop. Bush is clearly the starter moving forward, and the 30-year old Barron has become expendable.

Though he had a few good games last season, most of his performances were below average, and he often struggled in coverage. The biggest factor in this, however, is the massive sum of money he is due. Barron is set to make $8.125 million in 2020, according to Over the Cap (good for the 9th largest paycheck on the team). Cutting him this offseason would save the Steelers $5.25 million in cap space.

However, it’s hard for the Steelers to just cut him without a plan in place at linebacker. Vince Williams is still under contract and is expected to start alongside Bush again this season. Like Barron, Williams is also 30 years old. But despite being due upwards of $14 million over the next two seasons, Pittsburgh can’t get out of his contract until next offseason without taking massive dead money hits.

The 2020 linebacker class proved to be loaded with athletically gifted players, and the Steelers should begin to explore some of them as a cheaper (and possibly better) alternative to Mark Barron this season and beyond.

Some of the players who would make a great fit next to Devin Bush include Ohio State’s Malik Harrison, Mississippi State’s Willie Gay Jr., and Wisconsin’s Zack Baun. Though Baun could wind up being drafted well before the Steelers pick at 49 overall, the other two players will likely land somewhere in the second to fourth rounds. All three of these linebackers tested out very solid at the 2020 NFL Combine, and have the upside to be long-time starters in the NFL.

While addressing the league’s 30th ranked offense will be key this offseason, it’s important not to overlook the linebacker group completely. There were just a few weak links on the entire defense last season, and filling them could boost the Steelers to one of the best defensive units in the NFL.

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The Steelers haven’t expressed much interest in inside linebacker this offseason, but with Mark Barron’s ugly contract situation, it’s something that should be on their radar. Perhaps drafting one of these talented linebackers could be their answer.

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