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Steelers Analysis

Big Names Remain after Whirlwind Day 1 Free Agent Linebacker Signings

Some of the top names in the free agent linebacker class remain available for the Pittsburgh Steelers after the first day, including Baltimore Ravens star Patrick Queen.



Pittsburgh Steelers Ravens Patrick Queen
Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (6) defends during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2022, in Pittsburgh, PA. (AP Photo/Matt Durisko)

If there was a position that made the most noise on the first day of the 2024 NFL free agent contact period, it might’ve been at off-ball linebacker, where a full 10 players went off the board in the first day of free agency, but a deep class still holds options for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The inside linebackers went early and often on Monday, but it was mostly the undercard doing the moving and shaking, as teams scrambled to fill depth ahead of what is largely seen as an underwhelming draft class.

Of the 10 players that agreed to deals on Monday, just three arrived at an eight-figure AAV, with Frankie Luvu headlining the position by going from the Carolina Panthers to the Washington Commanders on a three-year, $36 million deal.

Azeez Al-Shaair stepped out of the twin shadows of Fred Werner and Dre Greenlaw in San Francisco to ink a three-year, $34 million contract with the Tennessee Titans. Andrew Van Ginkel left the Miami Dolphins on a two-year, $20 million deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Other bigger names that were moved on Monday included Jordyn Brooks (Seattle Seahawks to Miami Dolphins) and Blake Cashman (Houston Texans to Minnesota Vikings).

But while there was plenty of splash in the deals made on Monday, some of the biggest names in this free agent class remain. Lavonte David and Devin White of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Patrick Queen of the Baltimore Ravens and Bobby Wagner of the Seattle Seahawks all remain on the open market.

The Steelers are looking for one player at inside linebacker to replace Kwon Alexander, who is himself a free agent while rehabbing the Achilles injury that cost him the second half of his 2023 season.

That player could be a starter that pushes Elandon Roberts or Cole Holcomb into a part-time role — especially considering that Holcomb may or may not be ready for the start of the season after an ACL injury.

It could also be another complementary rotational player like Alexander was. Heck, it could be Alexander, if the Steelers are willing to wait long enough for his Achilles to heal.
But let’s take a look at some of the best Steelers fits that are still standing after the first day of free agency.

Patrick Queen, Baltimore Ravens

Look, the contract is probably going to be too rich for Omar Khan’s blood, but you can’t deny the player fit. An outstanding cover man, Queen would finally be the replacement to Ryan Shazier the Steelers have long sought, and the idea of plucking a star defender out of divisional rival Baltimore would be especially delicious.

Linebacker isn’t the Steelers most-pressing need (they cut starters at center, cornerback and strong safety), and so it’s hard to see them making such a big splash here. But what a splash it would be.

UPDATE: The Steelers did, in fact, make a big splash swiping Patrick Queen, All-Pro and former Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker to a 3-year deal.

Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

The Steelers added a couple of sages to their defense in 2023 by bringing in cornerback Patrick Peterson and outside linebacker Markus Golden to fill roles that were less demanding than the vets had experienced throughout their careers.

Wagner could follow a similar career arc by making a triumvirate with Roberts and Holcomb. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but despite 12 seasons under his belt, he’s still only 33 years old — and he led the entire NFL with 183 tackles last season on his way to his 10th All-Pro selection.
Russell Wilson reportedly tried to recruit Wagner to the Denver Broncos when he was available the last time around. Could he do the same in Pittsburgh?

Willie Gay, Kansas City Chiefs

Willie Gay has outstanding athleticism, posting a 4.46-second 40-yard dash and an off-the-boards 11-foot-4 broad jump coming out of Mississippi State in 2020. He’s a little on the short side at 6-foot-1, but it’s a small price to pay for his hard-hitting, downhill play. Gay is only 26, so he wouldn’t be a stop-gap. This is a player that could earn a four or five-year contract.

Jerome Baker, Miami Dolphins

One of the most obvious fits in the free agent class, Baker is an Ohio State alum that the Steelers scouted heavily in the draft process, played alongside Roberts in Miami, and is a coverage specialist that fills the third wheel of this arrangement perfectly.

Baker suffered a serious wrist injury in the final week of Miami’s 2023 season, and he was released with a failed physical designation last week, so his free agency process will be slower than others, as teams try to get a bead on his medical status.

Best of the Rest

Josey Jewell, Denver Broncos
Isaiah Simmons, New York Giants
Denzel Perryman, Houston Texans
Tyrell Dodson, Buffalo Bills
Nicholas Morrow, Philadelphia Eagles