Why the Steelers Defense Needs Lawrence Timmons

The 2016 season is expected to be a big one for the Pittsburgh Steelers, at least that’s the hope of many who are predicting a championship run.

With Ben Roethlisberger still in his prime, the Steelers offense is pretty much set at every position–even at receiver where Martavis Bryant will be missing thanks to a year-long suspension. Along with the excitement over the offense comes optimism about a defense that struggled in the final years under Dick LeBeau but sprung back to life in 2015 under new defensive coordinator Keith Butler, complete with 30 takeaways and 47 quarterback sacks.

With players like Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Ryan Shazier, Michael Mitchell, and even promising youngster Bud Dupree providing a new look and feel, this certainly isn’t Coach Dad’s defense any longer.

  • However, while there is clearly reason for excitement and hope for Butler’s charges, the defense remains far from a finished product.

The secondary was still an issue a year ago, when the team finished 30th against the pass, and it could be again in 2016, with so many relatively or downright unproven players vying for playing time.

Therefore, it sure would be good to have a veteran inside linebacker around to keep things in check and make sure everyone is where they need to be. And unless something weird happens, like, say, an outright release as a means to save significant cap space, that veteran inside linebacker will be Lawrence Timmons

  • It feels weird referring to Timmons as a “veteran” of the Steelers defense.

Not only is he still a month shy of his 30th birthday, but it seemed like only yesterday that everyone was waiting for No. 94 to put all of his extraordinary athletic talents together and become this beast of an inside linebacker.

In-fact, right before the 2011 season, when Timmons signed his current contract extension that runs through the 2016 season, it looked as if he had put it all together. Unfortunately for Timmons, who filled in for a few games at the outside linebacker spot for an injured James Harrison, his tackles dipped to 93 in 2011, after recording 135 the year before.

  • Thankfully, Timmons began to put things together during the latter half of the 2012 season, and has basically been the defense’s most consistent player over the past three years.

Has Timmons’ play declined in recent years, and is he a step slower than he was even two or three seasons ago? Perhaps. But the drop-off isn’t as noticeable as it was for, say, Troy Polamalu in 2014, when he looked totally helpless more often than he did the Tazmanian devil of his prime.

According to the salary cap site, Spotrac, Lawrence Timmons’ salary cap hit in 2016 will be just over $15.1 million. That’s why there was some talk not long ago about cutting the veteran linebacker, a move that would create over $8 million in space. However, the move would also leave over $6 million of dead money, which would be the football equivalent of paying a bill with a credit card, because you want to spend the money on something more current (you might get your joy now, but you’ll pay for it later).

Releasing a veteran near the end of a deal as a means to save money is a common practice for most teams in today’s NFL, where salary cap massaging is almost as vital to success as picking the right head coach. However, in most cases (not all) when  a player is released, he’s usually at the end of the road.

Timmons doesn’t seem to be nearing the end of his career. In-fact, after starting every single game since signing that aforementioned extension, Timmons appears to still be right in the middle of his prime.

  • The Steelers’ defense needs that kind of consistency.

Sure, the signing of Steven Johnson helped to offset the free-agent departures of both Sean Spence and Terence Garvinand Vince Williams is certainly a capable and young backup.

But the Steelers defense will be worse off in 2016 if Timmons is axed as a means to save money, which obviously isn’t going to happen anyway. The more likely scenario is the two sides agreeing to yet another extension that will create that much-needed cap space.

Cutting Lawrence Timmons wouldn’t be a viable business or football option for the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers if they want to remain true contenders.

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