2023 has already seen a number of changes made at the linebacker position for the Steelers, but the team is still making moves. A deal is in place with Kwon Alexander pending a physical, reports ESPN’s Brooke Pryor (Twitter link).
The veteran visited Pittsburgh in May, signaling that a deal could be close. It took well into July for one to materialize, but it will give the Steelers added depth and experience at a spot which has been heavily renovated in recent months. Alexander spent his first season in the AFC last year by playing with the Jets, and he will likely have a similar role in Pittsburgh to his most recent one..
The soon-to-be 29-year-old logged a snap share of 49% in New York, by far the lowest of his career. Alexander had steadily seen his playing time decrease in recent years, though, so it came as little surprise that he was relegated to rotational duty. He made 69 stops last season, adding six tackles for loss and one forced fumble.
CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson tweets that no guarantees have been made with respect to Alexander’s playing time upon arrival. A strong showing in training camp could earn him a first-team spot, though, something which is in flux given all the additions made at the second level this offseason. Cole Holcombreceived the largest investment amongst Pittsburgh’s new linebackers (three years, $18MM), a group which also includes fellow free agent signings Elandon Robertsand Nick Kwiatkoski.
Questions remain regarding how the Steelers’ new-look LB unit will fare, but it appeared to have a sufficient number of new faces heading into camp that further moves may not have been needed. Alexander should nevertheless provide consistent play in at least a rotational capacity as Pittsburgh looks to bolster its front seven as part of the wider effort to return to the postseason.
The Steelers will have quite a different look at inside linebacker in 2023 than they had in 2022. Free agency took a toll on the room in the offseason but still helped them to reload a bit at the position. In a mailbag Q&A this week, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic addressed the question of whether or not Pittsburgh did enough to address the position this spring.
That left three holes atop the roster at inside linebacker, including two starting spots. For one spot, the team signed former Commanders linebackerCole Holcomb. A fifth-round pick for Washington back in 2019, Holcomb was an immediate starter as a rookie. This wasn’t the first time that Holcomb had surpassed expectations as, in college, he earned a scholarship after initially walking on at North Carolina. He’s now started 48 of the 50 games he’s appeared in, but injuries have kept him from appearing in a possible 16 additional games. Most crucially, he missed 10 games in 2022 due to a knee injury in November and foot surgery that ended his season in December. If healthy, though, Holcomb can certainly perform as the team’s top linebacker. His best season saw him rank as the league’s 23rd best linebacker, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in 2020, and despite his injuries, he ranked 35th in 2022.
Another spot was filled by former Patriots and Dolphins linebackerElandon Roberts. An eighth-year veteran, Roberts had a bit of a breakout year in 2022. After seeing his role diminish over his final years with the Patriots, Roberts found a way to improve over each season in Miami. Finally starting in every game of the season in 2022, Roberts recorded career-highs in total tackles (107), tackles for loss (10), and sacks (4.5) and tied a career-high in quarterback hits (6). He’s never graded out highly by PFF standards as a full-service linebacker, but last year, Roberts topped all NFL linebackers with an 89.2 pass rushing grade.
Pittsburgh is planning on filling the third hole internally by putting more responsibility on the shoulders of Mark Robinson to fill Spillane’s role from last year. A seventh-round pick for the team in 2022, Robinson only appeared in four games last season, making two starts in the final two games of the year. The Steelers have taken their time with Robinson, who had only played one season at linebacker in college after switching from running back. The team seems confident in Robinson’s ability to step up in Year 2. They relied on him last year in the team’s last two games against the Ravens and Browns, two run-heavy teams, and he may play a similar role this year.
So, did the Steelers do enough to address the losses at the position? It may be too soon to say whether they’ve successfully filled the holes in the roster. They did a lot, and the holes are filled, but whether they’ve been filled effectively has yet to be determined. Kaboly does think that the team has done enough to at least satisfy the demands of the roster. He doesn’t believe that the team will continue to pursue Kwon Alexander or other free agents, barring injury to the three players above. Unless Holcomb, Roberts, and Robinson make it clear that they can’t handle the duties of the position, Kaboly believes that “the 90 they have is the 90 they will bring to camp.”
A more accomplished veteran is on the team’s radar as well. The Steelers are meeting with Kwon Alexander tonight, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Alexander spent last season with the Jets, reuniting with former 49ers DC Robert Saleh. While Alexander remains on the Jets’ radar, the Steelers are interested as well.
Despite a notable injury history and not having signed with the Jets until training camp last year, Alexander played all 17 Gang Green games and started 12. The former Buccaneers standout saw action on 49% of the Jets’ defensive plays, logging 559 defensive snaps — his most with one team since his 2017 Pro Bowl year in Tampa. While Alexander played 667 snaps in 2020, the 49ers traded him to the Saints midway through the season.
Pro Football Focus has graded Alexander as a top-50 linebacker in each of the past three seasons, slotting him 44th in 2022. He joined C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams as the Jets’ primary linebackers, helping the team to a remarkable bounce-back effort in Saleh’s second season running the defense. Alexander finished with 69 tackles (six for loss) and a forced fumble last year.
Both the Saints and Jets have sought Alexander, 28, for his experience; the Steelers could ask him to play a similar role. The eight-year veteran has 86 starts on his resume. Alexander did miss five games in 2021 due to an elbow injury, but he has avoided major maladies since his late-2010s trouble. Alexander suffered a torn ACL in 2017 and missed 18 games between the 2018 and ’19 slates.
The Steelers did add Tanner Muse this offseason and are also carrying ex-Giants starter Tae Crowder as a potential backup option. Alexander would obviously represent an upgrade and could certainly emerge as a starting option in the team’s 3-4 look.
Pittsburgh also brought in former Baltimore tight end Nick Boyle, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (on Twitter). Boyle attended the Steelers’ rookie minicamp over the weekend but did so as a long snapper. The longtime Ravens tight end is attempting to continue his career as a long snapper. This low-profile job can allow players to play into their late 30s or even early 40s, though it is the NFL’s lowest-paying on-field role. The Steelers have Christian Kuntz in place as their deep snapper, a role he has played over the past two seasons.
The Jets are open to re-signing linebacker Kwon Alexander, as ESPN’s Rich Cimini tweets. Cimini adds that the two sides have remained in touch throughout the offseason.
Alexander, who is entering his age-28 season, agreed to a veteran-minimum contract with New York last July. In his first season as a member of Gang Green, the LSU product appeared in all 17 games (12 starts) and posted 69 tackles. Pro Football Focus assigned him an overall score of 63.0, which positioned him as the 44th-best LB among 81 qualifiers.
With Aaron Rodgers now in the fold, the Jets profile as legitimate championship contenders in 2023. Though the club missed the postseason last year, it still fielded the fourth-best defense in the league in terms of both yards allowed and points allowed, and after re-signingQuincy Williams in March, it stands to reason that the Jets would want to keep the third member of their C.J. Mosley/Williams/Alexander linebacker triumvirate intact. The fact that Alexander could likely be had for another modest contract — there have been no public reports of outside interest in him this offseason — makes him more attractive.
Plus, the draft did not do much to bolster New York’s LB corps. GM Joe Douglas did add a linebacker, Western Michigan’s Zaire Barnes, in the fifth round, but Barnes does not profile as a player that will immediately command significant snaps on the defensive side of the ball. He joins 2021 Day 3 draftees Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen and reserve/futures signee Chazz Surratt as the only other ‘backers on the roster. That group combined to play 42 defensive snaps in 2022.
Another selling point for Alexander is that he holds up well in coverage. having yielded QB ratings of 81.5 and 89.5 over the past two seasons. He may not be the same player he was in 2017, when he earned his first and only Pro Bowl nod, but he remains a capable defender who is already familiar with Robert Saleh‘s high-end defense.
Some recent deals and extensions have been signed around the NFL. We’ve provided some updates on those contracts below:
Davon Godchaux, DT (Patriots): Two-year, $20.8MM extension, including $17.85MM guaranteed. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss (on Twitter), Godchaux got a $10.5MM signing bonus, and he’ll have a base salary worth $1.5MM in 2022. The extension reduced the defensive lineman’s cap hit from $10.25MM to $8.75MM.
Riley Reiff, OT (Bears): One-year deal worth a maximum amount of $12.5MM ($10MM likely to be earned). Per ESPN’s Field Yates (on Twitter), the Bears structured Reiff’s contract in such a way that it will count for just $3MM against the cap next season. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune provides more details on Twitter, noting that the lineman will earn a $3MM base salary, and he’ll earn another $4.5MM if he’s on the field for 10% of his team’s offense snaps. There are also incentives tied to offensive categories and a playoff appearance.
Kwon Alexander, LB (Jets): One-year deal. Contract is worth $1.12MM with a $152K signing bonus, according to Connor Hughes of The Athletic (on Twitter). His cap hit will be around that $1.12MM mark for the 2022 campaign.
The Jets had a standing offer out to Kwon Alexander, and the veteran linebacker will accept it. Alexander agreed to terms with the Jets on Thursday, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. It’s a one-year deal.
A former Buccaneers starter, Alexander has moved to the 49ers and Saints over the course of his seven-year career. The 49ers stretch is rather pertinent here, with current Jets HC Robert Saleh having coached the off-ball ‘backer during his stay as San Francisco’s DC.
Alexander, 28 next week, visited the Jets back in April. It is unclear how long the Jets’ offer has been on the table, but no other teams have been connected to the former Pro Bowler this offseason. The Saints made Alexander a cap casualty in March, and he will head to a fourth NFL organization shortly after the start of training camp.
Saleh has already signed ex-49er charges D.J. Reed and Solomon Thomas this offseason. Alexander played for the 49ers from 2019-20, though his tenure did not go so well. Given a lucrative deal to leave Tampa for San Francisco, Alexander went down with a torn pectoral muscle early in his first 49ers season. This came after an ACL tear ended his Bucs tenure midway through the 2018 season. Despite the ACL tear, the 49ers gave the ex-fourth-round pick a four-year, $54MM deal. That pact preceded the Jets’ decision to hand C.J. Mosley a market-topping — by a wide margin, at the time — five-year, $85MM pact.
The 49ers moved on with Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw as their three-down linebackers, trading Alexander during the 2020 season. In New Orleans, Alexander started 15 games — including eight last season. The 2021 campaign involved more Alexander injury trouble, with an elbow injury sidelining him for an early-season stretch. He rebounded to make 50 tackles (seven for loss) and tally 3.5 sacks. Pro Football Focus graded Alexander just inside its top 50 at linebacker, though the advanced metrics site viewed him as a plus coverage ‘backer.
The Jets have Mosley and Quincy Williams poised to be their three-down linebackers, but a significant experience void existed between the full-timers and the backups. The Jets view Alexander as an option to work alongside the full-timers in base sets, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets. Alexander, whose Pro Bowl nod came back in 2017, will be in position to bridge that gap and carve out a decent role for himself in New York.
The Jets made offers to Alexander and Reiff, according to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, who notes both still have the option to accept and sign on with the rebuilding team (subscription required). The Jets have set their prices here, however, with Hughes adding that — as was the case with the team’s Larry Ogunjobiinterest — GM Joe Douglas is not prepared to deviate from his initial offers to either player.
It is understandable, at this point in the offseason, Douglas will not follow through with a perceived overpay for players not expected to be starters. The Jets are uncertain which positions their starting tackles will play, but George Fant and Mekhi Becton are in line to be the team’s first-stringers. Ditto for C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams as three-down linebackers. With neither Reiff nor Alexander having been connected to other teams this offseason, they may need to revisit the Jets’ offers at some point.
That said, the Jets lost out on a few marquee wide receivers this year after showing interest and/or making major offers. Tyreek Hill chose the Dolphins, while Amari Cooper went to the Browns for the cost of two Day 3 picks. The 49ers may not have been ready to trade Deebo Samuel during the draft, but the Jets’ proposal involving the No. 10 overall pick included the 49ers’ second-round choice coming back. Granted those were higher-stakes negotiations than those involving late-offseason UFAs, but Hughes adds that if offers are equal, players should be considered unlikely to commit to the Jets over a team with legitimate playoff aspirations.
Reiff, 33, makes sense for a few teams as a potential starter option, having worked as a first-stringer for almost all of his 10-year career. He would represent Becton insurance in New York. Alexander, 27, played for Saleh for parts of two seasons (2019-20) before a midseason trade to the Saints. But he did not pan out in San Francisco. Alexander’s 2019 49ers contract may well have had an impact on the Jets’ previous regime needing to pay Mosley a then-record (for off-ball linebackers) $17MM per year. Alexander started eight games for the Saints last season.
The Jets’ defense has undergone plenty of changes this offseason, but the unit could see a few other additions in the near future. One free agent the team is still keeping tabs on is linebacker Kwon Alexander.
According to Brian Costello of the New York Post, the Jets are still “interested” in the veteran. This isn’t the first time the two parties have been connected, meaning that New York eyeing Alexander even after the draft comes as little surprise.
The Jets hosted Alexander on a visit in mid-April, signalling the potential that they could add him to their linebacking corps. The 27-year-old was at his best with his initial team, the Buccaneers. It was in Tampa Bay in 2017 that he was named a Pro Bowler for the first and only time in his career.
That led to plenty of optimism when he joined the 49ers on a big-money deal. The LSU product wasn’t able to live up to the expectations that came with that deal, however, and he only suited up for 13 contests in San Francisco. Most recently, he was in New Orleans after the Saints traded for him. Registering eight starts in 12 games this past campaign, he totalled 50 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
That obviously wasn’t enough to earn him a deal in the initial waves of free agency, but it generated at least some interest from the Jets. If he were to end up in the Big Apple, he would once again play under Robert Saleh, and add a veteran presence to the team’s LB room. New York has C.J. Mosleyon a lucrative contract; he would currently project as a starter alongside Quincy Williams – who is heading into a contract year. Other, younger, options remain slated for rotational roles after the team elected not to draft another option.
The Jets are in line to make significant additions to their roster next week in the draft. They are still keeping tabs on the free agent market, though, as they are hosting veteran linebacker Kwon Alexandertoday (Twitter link via ESPN’s Adam Schefter).
Alexander, 27, has been in the NFL for seven years. He had a highly productive start to his career in Tampa Bay after they drafted him in the fourth round. In four seasons there, he totalled 380 tackles, seven sacks and six interceptions. In 2017, he earned his lone Pro Bowl nod.
His tenure with the Buccaneers came to an end after his rookie contract expired, though. He signed a four-year, $54MM deal with the 49ers in 2019. With injuries becoming a problem, however, his time in San Francisco was limited to just 13 games. It did, on the other hand, give Alexander a chance to play under defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, who is now head coach of the Jets.
The LSU product was traded to New Orleans in the middle of the 2020 season, as the 49ers offloaded the lucrative contract they had signed him to just one year earlier. Alexander helped fill one of the lone roster holes on a strong Saints defense, starting all seven games he played in. That convinced the team to bring him back (after cutting him in the offseason to save cap space), and he registered 50 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2021.
In New York, Alexander would not only reunite with Saleh, but add experience to the team’s LB corps. The Jets have C.J. Mosleyat the top of the depth chart, along with Quincy Williams(who is a free agent next season) and a number of younger options. Signing Alexander would add a starting-caliber player in the middle of a defense looking to improve across the board from its 2021 performance.
There are many inside linebackers waiting patiently on the open market. A wild first week of free agency has come and gone with other positions seeing record deals and big names moving. The market for inside linebackers, however, has been quiet and less than lucrative.
In years past, we’ve seen monster deals to players like C.J. Mosley, whose contract has an average annual value of $17MM and guaranteed him $43MM at signing, and Darius Leonard, whose contract has an average annual value of $19.7MM and guaranteed him $33MM at signing. The largest payout we’ve seen this offseason to an inside linebacker was when the Packers kept De’Vondre Campbell from entering free agency with a five-year, $50MM deal, with a guaranteed $15MM. It’s certainly an impressive deal, and one the esteemed linebacker deserves, but no other deals have come close.
After being cut by the Jaguars, Myles Jack signed a two-year, $16MM deal to become a Steeler. Josey Jewell remained with the Broncos after signing a two-year, $11MM deal. Minnesota’s new inside linebacker, Jordan Hicks, joined the Vikings on a two-year, $10MM contract. Christian Kirksey signed a similar deal to remain with the Texans. We’ve seen a few other small deals like Zaire Franklin signing a three-year, $10MM deal to remain in Indianapolis and Alex Anzalone signing a one-year, $2.25MM contract to play another year with the Lions.
While that may sound pretty active, there are many big names who have yet to find deals. The biggest of these names is Bobby Wagner. Cut after ten outstanding years in Seattle, Wagner was expected to be a highly sought after free agent. While there have been many teams who’ve voiced interest in the eight-time All-Pro, there has been no word of negotiations. Any deal Wagner signs will likely top the numbers posed by Campbell and the Packers, but the fact that he has yet to find a home may hint at the fact that the money he’s looking for isn’t being offered.
Due to the low spending we’ve seen thus far and the plethora of names available, these players will likely have to search for the right fit and accept a decent deal if offered. They may end up having to wait until injuries provide an opportunity for them to fill in on a roster. The exception, of course, is Wagner, who can afford to be patient. Wagner will have the luxury of being able to wait and see how rosters form throughout the league, biding his time until he’s sure he’s joining a contender. Look for the others to give up on looking for a lucrative payday and settle for decent deals from teams with schemes they like.