The Pittsburgh Steelers are fortunate to have reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt and former third-round pick Alex Highsmith as their starting outside linebacker tandem. “But after that it’s anybody’s guess” who will fill the backup roles, says Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, at least if you look beyond former Browns and Eagles linebacker Genard Avery, who figures to be the top reserve at the position, having inked a one-year deal in late March.
“I expect them to bring in a veteran at the position before the start of the season,” adds Kaboly, not unlike how they added Melvin Ingram III last year. To that end, Kaboly regards Trey Flowers as a strong candidate to be this year’s Ingram.
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Trey Flowers Signed a $90 Million Contract in 2019
Flowers, 29, is a 2015 fourth-round pick of the Patriots (Arkansas) who parlayed four seasons in New England into a $90 million deal with the Detroit Lions in 2019. He got off to a strong start in the Motor City, recording seven sacks, 21 quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss across 15 starts in 2019.
But injuries became an issue in the next two seasons, as he missed the final nine games of the 2020 campaign with a broken forearm and was limited to seven starts in 2021 with a knee injury that he aggravated against the Steelers. That prompted the Lions to jettison him in mid-March, and it’s been something of a surprise that Flowers has yet to sign with a new team, as his release seems to have been largely salary-cap driven.
That said, one has to imagine it’s the knee issue and last year’s performance that has given teams pause. He posted a 63.2 overall Pro Football Focus grade in 2021, a precipitous drop from his 83.8 grade in 2020 and 82.8 grade in 2019.
As for Flowers’ career resume, it includes 75 total games played, including 64 starts. During those games he has produced 261 tackles (160 solo), including 37 tackles for loss, 31.5 sacks, 86 quarterback hits, 10 forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, according to Pro Football Reference (PFR). In 2021 he recorded 24 tackles, three quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble in seven games.
Predicted Cuts at Outside Linebacker
As for the other outside linebackers who currently have a place on Pittsburgh’s 85-man roster, Kaboly expects that Ron’Dell Carter, James Vaughters and Hamilcar Rashed Jr. will soon be out of the picture entirely. He also projects that Derrek Tuszka and Delontae Scott will be part of the final round of cuts and signed to the practice squad.
“The Steelers have given Tuszka every opportunity to win the No. 3 job, but he’s not a long-term solution,” notes Kaboly, yet the former Broncos seventh-round pick and ex-MVC Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t shown the capacity to build on his 2021 season, in which he appeared in 15 games and was credited with 18 tackles (nine solo), as well as two sacks, two quarterback hits and a fumble recovery, as per PFR.
Whomever the Steelers add in free agency, one hopes he will be a better fit than Melvin Ingram, who was traded for a sixth-round pick in early November of last year after he complained about a lack of playing time.
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