Steelers signing Patrick Queen is an atypical risky move

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Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (6)
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (6) / Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers kept fans waiting for the majority of early free agency, but they landed a major name when it was announced that linebacker Patrick Queen was getting signed.

Not only was this a big name, but it was also a big contract. His $13.67 million dollars a season is the most Pittsburgh has ever signed an outside free agent for.

While Queen has started to come into his own in recent years, I have my doubts about this deal. There is certainly a reason for excitement, as Queen is coming off his best season as a pro. Pittsburgh hasn’t had great linebacker play since Ryan Shazier, and Queen could be the long-awaited solution. It isn’t that cut and dry though, as there should be some questions about this signing right now.

Who exactly did the Steelers sign?

If you are watching the tape from roughly the last 25 games of Queen’s resume, then this contract is certainly a fair one. He was one-half of the best off-ball linebacker room in the NFL and consistently made an impact.

The issue is, Queen was consistently picked on for the majority of his first two seasons. He looked lost as that lead linebacker, and his game was similar to Devin Bush; an athlete at the position but not much more than that.

When the Ravens traded for Roquan Smith, everything changed. Suddenly, Queen wasn’t the big focus anymore, as the defense had to adjust for arguably the best linebacker in the NFL. This allowed Queen to play his game more carefree which helped his overall output. It is no secret that his best football came after that trade.

If Queen needs that elite running mate, he won’t have it with the Steelers. Cole Holcomb would be the best bet, but he isn’t exactly dynamic. The case should also be made that the Queen signing likely means Holcomb could be on the shelf for a while. Elandon Roberts played well last season, but no one is confusing him for a star.

The question becomes this: is Queen an ascending player who is finally hitting his stride, or is he a player who needs some star power next to him? For his salary, now the fifth highest-paid linebacker in the league, it needs to be the former.

On the plus side, his age could back up that he just had a learning curve as a defender. We have seen him improve in coverage, so there is evidence there. He will also just turn 25 this season despite having already played four seasons with Baltimore.

The biggest relief is his contract structure. While he is paid handsomely, he can also be cut with nearly 7 million in cap space a year from now if this thing goes sideways. Given the bonus he is due, over 6.5 million next year, we will know just how the Steelers feel about him in roughly a year.

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While I am skeptical of this deal working out, the financials are fine given the structure. If he is a player on the rise, you are getting a fair market price for a good linebacker. If he regresses back to his earlier form, you have an easy out a year from now. That said, I see some risk in this deal, as I can’t get a ping on what type of player Queen is at this point.