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Position by position: LBs

Ray Fittipaldo 5 years ago

The Steelers have found their new Lawrence Timmons. Now what to do with the old one?

Or more specifically, what to do with his contract?

The Steelers selected Ryan Shazier in the first round of the draft in 2014 with hopes he could develop into one of the team’s top defensive playmakers. When healthy, Shazier has delivered on that promise. After a shoulder injury forced him to miss four games early in the season Shazier came on late in the season and was the defense’s top player in the playoffs.

If not for Shazier’s forced fumble late in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati the Steelers don’t move on to face Denver in the division round of the playoffs.

Timmons, who is entering his 10th season, used to be the team’s top inside linebacker. At the end of the season he was being subbed out for safety Robert Golden when Keith Butler went with six defensive backs. Timmons isn’t the player he once was, but he remains effective. However, his $15 million cap hit must be addressed by the front office this offseason.

Timmons won’t turn 30 until May, so a contract extension that will ease the cap hit for next season is something the Steelers can explore with his agent. He’s no longer in his prime, but he remains effective stopping the run and had five sacks last season.

Depth could be an issue for the first time in a while. Sean Spence is an unrestricted free agent while Vince Williams has one year to go on his rookie contract. Both were solid in backup roles once again.

The outside linebackers combined for 13 sacks. It wasn’t all that long ago that was the output from one of the team’s outside backers. In 2008, James Harrison had 16 sacks. In that same season LaMarr Woodley had 11 ½.

Those days are long gone now, and it’s probably not a great sign that Harrison, at age 37, led the outside backers with five sacks this season. Harrison also played the highest number of snaps among outside backers (611).

Jarvis Jones, the team’s first-round pick in 2013, played 454 snaps on the right side alongside Harrison and only had two sacks. Rookie first-round pick Bud Dupree (563) and veteran Arthur Moats (554) split the snaps evenly on the left side. Both produced four sacks.

Harrison has one year remaining on his contract, but has not decided if he will play in 2016. If he does return the Steelers are set up for another season where four players split the snaps. If not, the Steelers have to hope rookie sixth-round pick Anthony Chickillo is ready for a larger role. Chickillo played mostly on special teams. He only played 22 defensive snaps.

In that case, the Steelers likely would have to select another outside backer in the draft or add one in free agency to provide depth at the position.

(Note: Snap counts by Football Outsiders)