PITTSBURGH -- This is the 1tth in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season – and take a look ahead.
2014 free agents: Stevenson Sylvester
The good: Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers' best defensive player, turned in another Pro Bowl-caliber season. The seventh-year veteran led the Steelers with 155 tackles, and he had eight games in which he had at least 10 stops. Timmons is highly productive, durable – he has started 53 consecutive regular-season games – and he is the Steelers’ best linebacker in pass coverage. Timmons tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) and also had three sacks. Vince Williams showed promise as a run-stopper after a season-ending biceps injury sustained by Larry Foote forced the rookie to start 11 games.
The bad: The Steelers gave up 30 more rushing yard game than they did in 2012, and Williams’ on-the-job training certainly contributed to the precipitous drop in their run defense. Is he the long-term answer alongside Timmons? It’s too early to tell, and he projects as the third inside linebacker if Foote returns in 2014. As well as Timmons played, there were some games in which he did not show up as much, and the Steelers have to utilize his pass-rushing skills more.
The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Timmons’ cap hit is significant (a little over $11.8 million), and the Steelers may try to restructure his contract as he is due a base salary of $6.75 million in 2014. The Steelers could save $1.5 million by releasing Foote so there is no guarantee he returns for a 13th NFL season.
Draft priority: High. Inside linebacker could be in play with the Steelers’ 15th overall pick, especially if either Buffalo’s Khalil Mack or Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still available or if both are still on board. The Steelers have more immediate needs on defense but it would be tempting for them to a take a linebacker to pair with Timmons, especially one who can make an impact if not start right away.