After being released by Las Vegas, the Steelers should be pursuing the former LSU pass rusher ahead of the draft.
The Steelers are in a really weird spot when it comes to pass rushers. Their starters are set, as Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt should be a fine duo for the upcoming season. The issue is, behind them, as Cassius Marsh is the current top backup. While the team will likely spend a pick in the draft on the position, the recently released Arden Key makes a lot of sense as a cheap insurance option.
Key never lived up to the hype he had. He was perceived as a first-round pick at one point before mediocre testing and character issues pushed him down draft boards. Most seemed to agree that the Raiders got good value with Key in the third round, and over the next three years he served primarily as a backup and spot starter.
The issues may not of all been his fault though. The Raiders run a 4-3 defense, meaning that Key was a defensive end in their front. At only 240 lbs., he would have been a little light to thrive as an end. While defensive end and outside linebacker have blended into the edge position, playing upright and not in the dirt could lead to some better results.
As well, his release seeming comes as a numbers issue. The Raiders are easily four deep at defensive end, meaning Key would have been a long shot to see any playing time this season. A new start could be just what he needed, as the Raiders clearly had seen enough of him. That said, a low-risk deal would make a lot of sense for the Steelers.
Key fits what the Steelers need
Key was a regular rotational option on defense, and the Steelers need just that this season. A capable body that can rotate in on occasion and play on special teams. Key can do all of that. While his three career sacks make it seems more than likely he is just a backup, that is exactly what the team needs.
This wouldn’t stop the Steelers from drafting an edge rusher either, as Key would come in on a cheap deal that the team could easily get out of. What it allows is for the team to not have to take an edge rusher early. Kevin Colbert likes to have options when drafting and not to be backed into a corner. Right now, he will have no choice but to draft an edge rusher in the draft, and likely earlier than most people would expect. Key at least gives the team the luxury to wait on the position if the value isn’t there.
Key joins a limited list of edge options in free agency that make sense for the Steelers. While top names like Melvin Ingram or Justin Houston are better options, they wouldn’t mesh well as a backup/special teams player. As well, their cost will almost certainly be higher than the Steelers could afford. Key, meanwhile, will likely be had for a minimum contract and has the ability to play special teams while still rotating in on defense.
All said, the Steelers would be wise to add Key to their offseason roster. There would be little risk involved in the move and the team would add a capable depth player to their squad. Edge rusher is a need, so finding an option before the draft allows the team more flexibility once their name is on the clock.