Clay Matthews would be a versatile chess piece for the Steelers

Clay Matthews (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Clay Matthews (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Steelers need depth at both the outside and inside linebacker positions. Here’s why Clay Matthews would be an ideal fit in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten back to their roots and focused on defense in recent drafts. In fact, they’ve spent seven straight first-round picks beefing up that side of the ball.

Due to their cap situation to start the 2020 offseason, however, Pittsburgh had to cut a few players with unreasonably high cap numbers. Among them were outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo and inside linebacker Mark Barron. In addition, linebacker Tyler Matakivch joined the Buffalo Bills this offseason.

The Steelers always look to have quality depth at the linebacker positions, but right now, they have just a few unproven commodities. On the edge, Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper round out the only depth they currently have behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree.

The depth at inside linebacker isn’t looking much better. Only 2019 6th-round pick Ulysees Gilbert and 2018 undrafted free agent Robert Spillane remain behind Devin Bush and Vince Williams.

These four backups have combined for 0 starts, and just 28 tackles in 40 combined game appearances. There is no doubt the Steelers will want to add veteran depth at the position this offseason, and there is a player sitting in free agency who would be a perfect fit.

Though Clay Matthews is only a shell of his former All-Pro self, he makes sense for a number of reasons. For starters, he has years of experience under Mike McCarthy’s 3-4 defense – a scheme that much resembles Pittsburgh’s. While he started his career on the outside, Clay Matthews has proven that he can play all four linebacker spots in a 3-4 scheme.

Matthews turns 34 years old this season, but despite playing just 56 percent of snaps in 2019 for the Los Angeles Rams, he earned 8.0 sacks, 9 tackles for a loss, 11 quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles. In comparison, Anthony Chickillo was non-existent with just 0.5 sacks and 0 tackles for a loss in 11 games last year. In fact, Clay Matthews earned more sacks in 2019 than Chickillo has in his first 5 years in the league (7.5 sacks in 65 games).

Matthews has accepted his role as a rotational player late in his career, and it is paying off for him. With his versatility to and experience lining up all over the formation, he would be a capable backup if either T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, or even Vince Williams were to miss any period of time with injuries.

At the very least, he’s a veteran leader who will be ready to relieve his teammates when his number is called.

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The Steelers could look to fill their need at linebacker in the NFL draft, but in a closing Super Bowl window, it would be great to add an experienced pass rusher and former 6-time Pro Bowler this season. Matthews should come at a good price, and Pittsburgh should strongly consider bringing him in.