Steelers Likely Open To The Return Of Veteran Pass Rusher After Solid 2023

The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the most fearsome tandem edge rushers in the NFL. TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith have game-changing abilities to get to the quarterback and bring him down. The pair are workhorses and played over 80% of the team’s defensive snaps in the 2023 season. When they aren’t playing, which isn’t much, the team turned to veteran outside linebacker Markus Golden to carry the load. The 33-year-old provided great insurance for the team during the 2023 season and even started their playoff game against the Buffalo Bills in place of Watt.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Markus Golden slams Tennessee Titans rookie  quarterback Will Levis to the grass for 7-yard sack.

Golden joined the franchise as a free agent after the Arizona Cardinals handed him his walking papers. He didn’t start a regular season game in 2023, but was able to make a considerable impact. The former Cardinal and New York Giants outside linebacker totaled four sacks, placing him third behind Highsmith and Watt. He added 10 quarterback hits and six tackles for a loss, while only playing 22% of defensive snaps.

Steelers beat writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ray Fittipaldo, hosted a weekly chat on Tuesday and got a question from a reader about the team’s depth at the position. They asked whether a reunion with Bud Dupree, who has said he’s open to a return, or bringing back Golden would be a better bet. Fittipaldo dodged the part about Dupree entirely, but offered up something on Golden.

“I thought Golden was solid in his role,” he wrote. “If he wants to come back, I think they’d be open to that.”  

The Steelers don’t need to be in the market for a big-time pass rusher to add to the group. They already have Watt and Highsmith and pay them respectively for their impact. Nick Herbig emerged as a fan favorite in the preseason, registering 3.5 sacks in three games. As a rookie, he didn’t see the field much on defense, but made his moments count when he did. He registered three sacks on the season, but the biggest was against the Seattle Seahawks.

Pittsburgh jumped out to a 27-20 lead in the fourth quarter thanks to a Chris Boswell field goal. On the first play of the Seahawks’ next drive, Herbig fought through a pair of blocks and brought down quarterback Geno Smith while also knocking the ball loose.

Herbig could be in line for a bigger role in the 2024 season on defense after taking advantage of his opportunities in 2023. It still feels like the team will try to fill out the depth chart with another veteran.

Steelers Understand The Need For Pass Rush Depth

In 2022, the Steelers had to deal with missing Watt for an extended period after he suffered a pectoral injury that forced him to miss seven games. Highsmith emerged as a star, with 14.5 sacks and a league-leading five forced fumbles. The team didn’t get much help from Watt’s replacements, however.

An organization needs to have a clear understanding of their requirements for their depth outside linebacker positions. The Steelers learned this lesson from the Melvin Ingram situation in 2021, where he was traded after expressing frustration. They discovered the significance of having a player who comprehends their role on the team. Ingram and Golden had similar backgrounds as former starters with other teams and joined the Steelers in their 30s.

Golden seemed much more content to be a backup and from all accounts, understood his job. He was also good at it, which goes a long way. If Golden is open to returning in the same capacity, it would make sense for the franchise to pull the trigger at the right price.

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