The Pittsburgh Steelers made a splash trade to acquire outside linebacker Malik Reed from the Denver Broncos on August 30. However, changes will be made in the coming days to their 53-man roster following the cut-down deadline to further improve their linebacker depth.
As first reported by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the New York Giants released former Steelers outside linebacker Quincy Roche on August 30. He’ll be subject to waivers and available to the Steelers (and the 31 other teams) the following day. Waiver order is indicated by draft order, so Pittsburgh is 20th in line.
Roche was initially viewed as a “big-time steal” when the Steelers selected him in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL draft. But after a successful preseason which
Pittsburgh selected Roche in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL draft but released him this time last year as part of the 80-man roster cuts and claimed on waivers by the Giants.
The expectation was that Roche would clear waivers and make it back to Pittsburgh’s practice squad, but the Giants snapped him up instead. The move came back to bite them in the butt with injuries to T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
After Roche’s release, the Steelers struggled with edge rusher depth behind Watt and Highsmith. The mishap eventually forced them to sign free agent Melvin Ingram, and we know what a mess that turned out to be. After Ingram’s trade demands were met, Pittsburgh replaced him with Taco Charlton, who the New Orleans Saints cut on August 30.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Temple/Miami product played 159 snaps in Pittsburgh’s four preseason games in 2021, logging 2.0 sacks, two hurries, and five tackles for loss.
Roche appeared in 14 games (3 starts) for the Giants, finishing the year with 38 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, five quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
Even after the headache that was their edge defender depth in 2021, the Steelers did next to nothing this offseason to address outside linebacker until the recent trade for Reed.
Reed is an excellent depth acquisition, but adding Roche, a player the Steelers were initially high enough on to use valued a draft pick, might be a wise move — even if he’s on the practice squad.
Another former Steelers linebacker, Genard Avery, is back on the market after being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Avery was released in the Steelers’ second wave of cuts on August 23.
Steelers Starting Edge Rushers
It’s critical to rotate quality players to spell starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and have complete confidence they can step up should an injury occur.
“I think it’s important that you have a guy to have some depth because those guys can’t play every snap in the way they play,” Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said in an August 30 press conference. “The physicality in which they play with and the effort and energy. So, you have to have a third guy, and a lot of times, we’ll get a fourth guy. The fourth guy maybe will get 10 snaps a game. So, it’s important to have depth, especially at that position, because at the end of games, you need somebody to rush the passer and try to end it. Those are the guys that get it done.”
Highsmith has been limited this offseason, nursing a rib injury sustained early in training camp. Watt appeared to avoid a nasty knee injury after a cut block in the August 28 preseason finale.
When asked about Highsmith’s progress and availability for Week 1, Austin said, “He’s been coming along well. He’s out there doing walkthroughs and doing some stuff, so I assume the doctors will let us know if he’s ready. And I haven’t heard anything that tells me that there’s any setback, so we’ll just see how that goes. But I’m looking forward to him being out there with T.J. on the 11th.”