The Pittsburgh Steelers reportedly added a new linebackers coach in Aaron Curry on February 19. The Steelers are now being implored to sign a new linebacker in free agency.
“If it’s financially feasible, Tennessee Titans linebacker David Long Jr. would be a prime free-agent target,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox. “Long was great against the pass in 2022, allowing an opposing passer rating of only 74.1 in coverage, according to Pro Football Reference.”
Long played four seasons with the Titans, posting 230 combined tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and 5 quarterback hits. He also had 14 pass defenses, 4 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.
How Long Potentially Fits With the Steelers
The Steelers receiving encouragement from the media to sign an inside linebacker is hardly new. Rumors have circled for weeks that Pittsburgh is the ideal landing spot for Buffalo Bills free agent linebacker Tremaine Edmunds.
While Edmunds appears to be an ideal fit on paper, he’s also an expensive option.
As a sixth-round pick, Long isn’t as highly regarded around the league as Edmunds, who is a former first-rounder. Long also finished the 2022 season on injured reserve, which should lower his asking price.
Spotrac projected Long’s market value to be about $9.9 million on a two-year contract while estimating Edmunds’ value to be north of $44 million ($11 million average annual salary on a four-year deal).
The Steelers need a linebacker because ex-first-round pick Devin Bush and veteran Robert Spillane are set to hit free agency. Fellow inside linebacker Myles Jack is also a cut candidate because his cap hit will rise to $11.25 million for 2023.
Targeting Long will give the Steelers more flexibility to address their other needs. That won’t be the case if the Steelers sign Edmunds.
The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly argued that defensive line and cornerback should both be bigger priorities than inside linebacker for the Steelers. The team also has two unrestricted free agents at safety, which if brought back, could help offset the need for a bonafide star at linebacker.
“Last on my list [of offseason priorities for the Steelers] is inside linebacker,” Kaboly wrote. “I just don’t know how much teams value inside linebackers in the league anymore.
“They can be substituted out for safeties or even a nickel in a big formation that has four defensive linemen.”
Long posted a career-high 86 combined tackles, including 7 tackles for loss, 5 pass defenses, 2 interceptions and 3 quarterback hits in 12 starts during 2022. The Titans placed him on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment on December 10.
Other Linebacker Options for Steelers
Given the other needs on defense in Pittsburgh, Knox was convincing in his argument that the team should target Long in free agency. But he also added Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders to the list of possibilities.
“Sanders is excellent in coverage and has few flaws. He’s athletic enough to cover running backs and tight ends in man coverage and has the instincts to be effective in zone, too,” wrote Bleacher Report draft expert Matt Holder.
Knox wrote that the Steelers could draft Sanders in the second round.
General manager Omar Khan will have two second-round picks to work with in the 2023 NFL Draft — No. 32 and 49 overall.
The ESPN draft rankings rated Sanders the top inside linebacker and No. 26 overall player in the upcoming class. That begs to question whether the Arkansas star will be there when the Steelers’ second pick arrives on the board.
But Pro Football Focus has Sanders ranked as the 95th-overall player.
Whether through free agency or the draft, the Steelers appear to have options for their inside linebacker opening outside of Edmunds.