Ravens Decline Option on Ex-Steelers, Eagles Linebacker: Report

LJ Fort

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images Cameron Artis-Payne of the Carolina Panthers runs past L.J. Fort #54 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during a game at Bank of America Stadium on September 1, 2016.

When former Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker L.J. Fort inked a three-year, $5.5 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2019, he felt like he had found a relatively permanent NFL home. But the Eagles cut Fort after just four games, a “shocking” decision, in Fort’s mind, but one that was made—at least in part—to preserve a compensatory fourth-round draft pick.

But the scrappy linebacker landed on his feet. Three days after getting cut by the Eagles Fort signed on with the Baltimore Ravens, who immediately liked what they saw. Four weeks into his tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens signed Fort to a two-year, $5.5 million contract extension, which was designed to take him through the 2021 season.

But now Fort is reportedly unemployed again, despite producing a career high in tackles (53) for the Ravens in 2020.

According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, the Ravens had an option on Fort’s contract for 2021, but declined to pick it up, making him an unrestricted free agent.

The move saves the Ravens $2.25 million in salary cap space. Notably, Zrebiec indicates that Baltimore hasn’t closed the door on bringing Fort back at a lower price.

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L.J. Fort a Candidate to Return to the Steelers?

But with the Steelers terminating the contract of inside linebacker Vince Williams yesterday (a move that saved Pittsburgh $4 million in salary cap space), bringing Fort back to the Steel City for depth/insurance would seem to make sense, especially if he can be signed for less than what he was set to earn with the Ravens.

Keep in mind that Fort played well enough in Baltimore that he remained part of the linebacker rotation in 2020, even after the Ravens drafted inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the first- and third-rounds of the 2020 draft, respectively.

In fact, he appeared in 14 games for the Ravens (with eight starts) and in addition to the 53 tackles had two fumble recoveries, including one returned for a touchdown against the Houston Texans. All in all, Fort played 381 snaps on defense last year, as well as 63% of Baltimore’s special teams snaps.

Meanwhile, the Steelers don’t have much at inside linebacker behind former first-round pick Devin Bush and recently-re-signed exclusive rights free agent Robert ‘Front of the Plane’ Spillane. At the moment the only other inside backer with any NFL experience is converted safety Marcus Allen, another exclusive rights free agent who recently re-upped for one year.

L.J. Fort’s NFL Odyssey

Fort (6-foot-0, 232 pounds) came into the NFL in 2012 when he was signed by the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent out of Northern Iowa.

Prior to catching on with the Steelers in the summer of 2015, Fort spent time with the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots. He found relative stability in Pittsburgh, appearing in 44 games over a period of four years, during which time he was credited with 63 total tackles (50 solo), with five tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, two sacks, four passes defensed and a fumble that he recovered for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons.

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