Starting “buck/strongside” linebacker Larry Foote was inked to a three-year deal worth $5.5 million earlier this spring. The move itself was quite sensible, especially since Steelers had zero “experienced depth” behind Foote and Lawrence Timmons after the 2012 regular season ended.
Foote however was lost for the season after he sustained a biceps injury in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh’s 16-9 loss to Tennessee last Sunday. As detrimental as the injury is to Foote’s 2013 season, it could have long-term ramifications regarding whether or not he stays in Pittsburgh beyond this year too.
Economic Crunch and Age
Although Foote is scheduled to earn $1.5 million as a base salary in 2014 and 2015, Pittsburgh’s brass will likely still be in the midst of another “salary cap-crunch” when next March rolls around. This franchise has made massive restructuring moves during the last two offseason periods, and they will probably need to make more if they need to extend/re-sign free agents already on the team like Cortez Allen, Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, Ziggy Hood, Jason Worilds, etc..
While I could care less if the Steelers’ brass ink some of those players, signing them long-term will not be a cheap endeavor for those in the front office. At the moment, $1.5 million is not a small investment for a team with cap issues like Pittsburgh’s to allocate to a soon-to-be 34 year old like Foote.
The inside linebacker has also lost “a step or two” when it has come to his ability to hold his own in pass coverage in recent seasons, and the franchise has to question how much money they can spend on a “two-down linebacker.”
Successful Personnel Changes
The Steelers could also elect to let Foote walk if they end up liking what they see from Kion Wilson and Vince Williams at the “buck position” this fall too.
Wilson was given the starting nod for Monday night’s game by his head coach earlier this week, and the fourth-year linebacker finished out the rest of Pittsburgh’s Week 1 contest for Foote. Although the former South Florida Bull has yet to start a regular season game in the N.F.L., the coaching staff and his fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons have confidence that he can step up in Foote’s place.
Even if Wilson does not “pan out” in the veteran’s place, the Steelers could be inclined to insert hard-hitting rookie Vince Williams in Foote’s place towards the end of the regular season. The sixth-round pick already has the type of frame and tenacity to play on the strong-side of the formation. If the rookie is able to illustrate an understanding of the scheme and can provide competent support in pass-coverage, then Pittsburgh could give Williams some chances to prove himself on the defensive side of the ball.
If Pittsburgh’s brass are not impressed with what either backup brings to the table this fall though, then they could always opt for a cheaper and younger player in next May’s drafy as well.
If the Steelers were not as pressed for salary cap room as they will likely be next spring, then I would say that the veteran would have a spot on this team’s roster for another year. The rebuilding franchise must get younger and cheaper over the next few seasons. The 12-year veteran could also be shown the door if Timmons can illustrate that he is capable of play-calling and setting up the defense in pre-snap situations during the rest of the season too.
For now though, all we can do wait until March to see how the front office decides to handle what could very well be a sticky situation between them and the inside linebacker.
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