The image of “The Red Phone” is one that conjures “emergency” in popular culture, wehther you’re watching commissioner Gordon call Wayne Manor or viewing a Cold War epic whose plot centers on use of the Washington-Moscow hotline.
- The NFL is no different. Every General Manager has a list of emergency players to turn to when disaster strikes.
Kevin Colbert has his list. Sometimes it has involved calling players with no history in Pittsburgh, think Matthew McCrane stepping in for Chris Boswell. Other times he’s turned to familiar faces – think Max Starks at any number of points in his career. In 2020 injuries to Stephon Tuitt forced Kevin Colbert to again to seek a surprise name from his emergency list, that of L.T. Walton.
Capsule Profile of L.T. Walton’s Career with the Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers drafted L.T. Walton in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He earned a roster spot, but didn’t play which is no surprise in John Mitchell’s system.
Cam Heyward’s season ending injury in the middle of 2016 opened the door for L.T. Walton to get some playing time, as L.T. Walton saw his snap count rise to 24%. While the dramatic improvement shown by the Steelers defense in the 2nd half of the 2016 season came from James Harrison starting for Jarvis Jones, and stepped up play by Javon Hargrave, Sean Davis and Artie Burns, it would have been possible had L.T. Walton been a liability on the field.
Could L.T. Walton build on that in 2017? His record was mixed, with his snap count dropping, but Walton adding sacks in the Steelers wins over Tennessee and Green Bay. Walton also struggled while playing nose tackle in the playoff debacle against Jacksonville, but no Steelers defender played well that afternoon.
- In 2018, John Mitchell gave way as defensive line coach to Karl Dunbar, and Karl Dunbar decided to give Daniel McCullers another shot.
And Daniel McCullers’ second shot came at L.T. Walton’s expense as his as his snap count dwindled to below 5%. L.T. Walton hit the free agent market a year ago, and failed to get any attention either inside or outside Pittsburgh.
The Steelers signed him on October 21st after putting Stephon Tuitt on IR, then put L.T. Walton on IR on November 19th without dressing him once.
The Case for the Steelers Signing L.T. Walton
“He knows the system,” is the credo coaches frequently fall back on when signing a journeyman veteran whom they’ve parted ways with in the past. That certainly applies to L.T. Walton. Moreover, with Javon Hargrave set to depart in free agency, and with the Steelers having little depth behind Heyward, Tuitt, Tyson Alualu and Isaiah Buggs and even less draft capital to add that depth, a veteran minimum contract for L.T. Walton seems like a low-risk high reward proposition.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning L.T. Walton
L.T. Walton is a player who has been in the NFL for four years and played a total of 480 snaps. 255 came when Cam Heyward was out and there was literally no one left to play. He sat on the open market a year ago and no one showed any interest, and managed to get injured after his surprise midseason return despite never even dressing.
Do I need to keep going? Even a veteran minimum contract takes up a roster space that could be used to give a chance to the next Willie Parker, James Harrison or Devlin Hodges. Using it one on L.T. Walton would be a waste.
The Curtain’s Call on L.T. Walton and the Steelers
This has all been an academic exercise, hasn’t it? Because there’s no chance the Steelers resign L.T. Walton. Right?
Stranger things have happened on the Steelers defensive line during free agency. In 2015 the Steelers resigned Clifton Geathers the emergency defensive lineman signed to replace Brett Keisel. In 2018 the Steelers shocked the world when they resigned Daniel McCullers. Last year they did it again.
With that said, the smart money says that neither the Steelers, nor the rest of the league, give L.T. Walton a second look in free agency this spring.