The Steelers signed Stevenson Sylvester to a one year deal on Wednesday. Sylvester was an RFA at the start of the offseason but became an UFA after the team decided to not offer a tender by the deadline. The deal is reportedly less than the $1.3 million he would have received were the team to offer him the original tender.
The move of not signing Sylvester and then getting him for less money could be seen as sound economics by the Steelers. Knowing that Sylvester was injury plagued all last season and only contributed on special teams, the Steelers probably had a hunch that Sylvester wouldn’t be a hot commodity during free agency. Like fellow linebacker James Harrison, no one seems to want the unwanted…. unless you’re the Steelers brass. A good deal for the Steelers who are in need of linebacker help after releasing Harrison and failing to lock up any other ‘significant’ free agent, such as Victor Butler. But, let us remember that Sylvester is an inside linebacker and does not play well on the outside.
What this says about the state of the inside linebacking core is not a good one. Even though shoring up the middle with depth is a good move (and I’m all for it), it gives me great pause. What this really means for the Steelers is that 2012 rookie Sean Spence is no where near a full recovery. Spence, as you recall, severely injured his knee during the Steelers final preseason game in 2012. Thought of as the eventual replacement to James Farrior, Spence had a solid preseason up to the injury. There was no way to know at that point if Spence would over the course of the season step up and over teammate Larry Foote in the depth chart. If Spence were nearing the end of his road to recovery, I would expect the Steelers would place him back at #2 on the depth chart and allow him some playing time behind both Foote and Lawrence Timmons. By signing Sylvester, after presumably no wanting him by making the tendered offer, it says to me that Spence is a long ways off from stepping onto the football field in a game situation.
The Steelers need depth and they need familiarity with the system – Foote’s age, pass coverage inconsistencies, and the need for special teams personnel were probably all factors in getting Sylvester back on the roster. The signing also more than likely signifies that the Steelers are done shopping for a free agent linebacker…. at least until June 1st when they get almost $5 million in saved money from releasing Willie Colon.