Ever since they lost Ryan Shazier to a tragic injury late during the 2017 season, the Steelers have yet to find a way to adequately replace him on the football field. In February, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged the team hasn’t done enough to fill Shazier’s absence. A month later, Colbert attempted to rectify the problem in free agency.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Steelers are signing linebacker Mark Barron to a two-year deal that’s worth $12 million.
LB Mark Barron gives Steelers a versatile option over the middle. Barron signs two-year, $12-million deal w/ Pittsburgh, per @AdamSchefter. The 230-pound Barron, 29, transitioned from S/LB and should be able to handle base and dime defensive duties, depending on what team asks.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 17, 2019
Barron, a former first-round pick of the Buccaneers, was cut by the Rams earlier this month. Originally a safety when he entered the league out of Alabama, Barron has been durable, playing in 104 of 112 possible games in his career. After he joined the Rams via trade midway through the 2014 season, the Rams converted him to linebacker. Over the past four seasons, he averaged roughly 70 solo tackles, one sack, and one interception per season.
He ended his run with the Rams on a high note with strong performances in the playoffs and the Super Bowl, demonstrating his ability to effectively stop the run.
The signing of Barron, a very flawed player, should not prohibit the Steelers from drafting a linebacker at No. 20 if one of the top prospects — like Devin Bush — is available. He should not be viewed as a long-term solution. He graded out poorly by Pro Football Focus’ metrics, getting labeled as “one of Los Angeles’ liabilities defensively.”
But if a linebacker isn’t available at No. 20, the Steelers have given themselves a bit of cover by signing Barron. Last year’s starters at inside linebacker, Jon Bostic and Vince Williams, are still under contract with the team and both could remain in Pittsburgh even after the Barron signing, depending on what happens in the draft.
This past season, the Steelers’ defense fell out of the top-10 in DVOA while ranking in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed. After losing Antonio Brown (and Le’Veon Bell), the Steelers might need their defense to contribute more to the cause if they’re going to return to the playoffs. Fixing their hole at linebacker would help, though other problems — like at cornerback — are equally pressing.
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