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After Missing on Bud Dupree, Who is Left for Steelers in Free Agent OLB Market?



Steelers OLB Target Justin Houston

The Pittsburgh Steelers wanted a two-year deal with veteran free agent outside linebacker Bud Dupree, to make him the top rotational player behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Dupree preferred a one-year deal, instead signing with the Atlanta Falcons this week.

But the Steelers are clearly interested in adding a veteran at the position. So if not Dupree, who is left on the open market? Let’s take a look.

Here’s our free agent big board from back in March when the market first opened, updated with the latest signings.

NO Marcus Davenport Signed with MIN; one year, $13 million
CLE Jadaveon Clowney
HOU Charles Omenihu Signed with KC; two years, $20 million
SF Arden Key Signed with TEN; three years, $21 million
SF Samson Ebukam Signed with IND; three years, $24 million
HOU Ogbonnia Okoronkwo Signed with CLE; three years, $19 million
IND Yannick Ngakoue
LAR Leonard Floyd
PHI Brandon Graham Re-signed with PHI; one year, $5 million
MIA Melvin Ingram III
BAL Justin Houston
KC Frank Clark
LAC Kyle Van Noy
HOU Rasheem Green Signed with CHI; one year, $2.5 million
ATL Lorenzo Carter Re-signed with ATL; two years, $9 million
JAX Dawuane Smoot
TEN DeMarcus Walker Signed with CHI; three years, $21 million
KC Carlos Dunlap
TEN Bud Dupree Signed with ATL; one year, $5 million
BUF Shaq Lawson Re-signed with BUF; one year
TB Anthony Nelson Re-signed with TB; two years, $10 million
DAL Dante Fowler Jr. Re-signed with DAL; one year, $3 million
MIA Andrew Van Ginkel Re-signed with MIA; one year, $2.65 million
PHI Robert Quinn
TB Carl Nassib

We can cross most of these names off the list for the Steelers right away. Jadaveon Clowney was unhappy in Cleveland playing second fiddle to Myles Garrett, let along being a No. 3. Yannick Ngakoue, Leonard Floyd and Frank Clark should also be seeking starting roles. The Steelers already tried Melvin Ingram III in that role once and that didn’t work out.

So that takes us to some more realistic targets:

Justin Houston, Baltimore Ravens

Houston was the No. 3 edge rusher for the Ravens in 2022, with 526 snaps coming in behind Odafe Owen and Jason Pierre-Paul. The 34-year-old played under 50% of his team’s defensive snaps for the first time in his career, but was still productive with 9.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss.

The Steelers apparently pursued Houston in 2022 and were unable to get him to sign, even though they offered a better deal, according to Houston. But he said he thought Baltimore was a better fit. Might that still be the case? We shall see.

Kyle Van Noy, Los Angeles Chargers

The former second round pick has played all over the defense in his NFL career, but settled mostly as an edge rusher in 2022, where 626 of his 784 snaps came. That’s a starting role, and it’s possible that Van Noy would balk at being a No. 3 in Pittsburgh. But his experience as an off-ball linebacker might mean the Steelers could play their three-OLB package that was largely shelved in 2022 a lot more and get him closer to a full-time role. He could also provide depth at inside linebacker, where the Steelers have lost three players to free agency and only signed two.

Dawuane Smoot, Jacksonville Jaguars

A former third-round pick, Smoot did very little in his first two seasons in Jacksonville but burst onto the scene in 2019, when he collected six sacks, purely in a a backup role. He moved to part-time starter in 2020 and full-time starter in 2021, but never improved on those numbers. In 2022, he had five tackles in 15 games before suffering an Achilles injury that ended his season. He may not be healthy enough yet to pass a physical. It’s doubtful that Smoot will land a starting job in free agency.

Carlos Dunlap, Kansas City Chiefs

It’s not even clear if Dunlap wants to keep playing after winning his first Super Bowl at age 34. But if he does, someone will find good value in the aging star. He played a surprising 675 snaps, with most of them coming at edge, even though he played inside earlier in his career.

If the Steelers wanted Dunlap, they could have him split time between backing up Highsmith and Watt and helping the interior defensive line, much like DeMarvin Leal did in 2022. Dunlap was in Cincinnati for Teryl Austin’s season as the Bengals defensive coordinator in 2018.

Robert Quinn, Philadelphia Eagles

Another player that has moved from playing more interior defensive line to more on the edge as he ages, Quinn saw his production take a nose dive in 2022. After an All Pro season with 18.5 sacks with the Chicago Bears in 2021, he had just one in seven games in Chicago and six in Philadelphia in 2022. A reduced role in a deeper Eagles rotation didn’t seem to help. In three playoff games with Philly, Quinn had just two tackles, no tackles for loss and no sacks. Signing Quinn would be a bet he can rediscover some of his 2021 form.

Carl Nassib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Penn State product has settled into a role as a steady if unspectacular backup edge rusher. He had 3.5 sacks in 13 games with the Bucs in 2022 while also playing well against the run. Nassib had 6.5 sacks in 2018 and six in 2019, so there is potential for more under the right conditions.

That’s not exactly a big list, so I went and scrounged some other names that might be interesting to the Steelers:

BAL Steven Means
MIA Trey Flowers
ARI Markus Golden
SEA Bruce Irvin
HOU Mario Addison
CHI Al-Quadin Muhammed
NYJ Vinny Curry
IND Ben Banogu

At this point, the Steelers will probably wait until after the 2023 NFL Draft to make a free agent move. After all, maybe Tyree Wilson will fall to them at No. 17 or they land a versatile defender that can fill multiple roles like Lukas Van Ness.

Players signed after May 2 do not count against the formula for compensatory draft picks, and although the Steelers are not likely to be in a position to gain a pick, they may want to prevent another team from doing so by waiting until after the deadline.