As the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers figure to be raided in free agency. It's just a fact of life in today's NFL.
The Steelers have 13 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the signing period opens Feb. 27. Over the next few weeks, we'll look at the Steelers position-by-position as they head into the period and what direction they may go.
Today: The linebackers
What was once one of the weaker spots on the team is now a strength, possibly the best group in the NFL.
The Steelers not only have great starters at linebacker, they also have solid depth thanks to the additions of Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in the 2007 draft and Keyaron Fox in free agency last year.
Woodley had a strong season opposite 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, while Timmons shared time at inside linebacker with Larry Foote and also started one game each in place of Harrison and Woodley.
James Farrior, despite being 34, rewarded the team's decision to give him a contract extension before the season with another Pro Bowl season.
The Steelers liked to refer to Harrison, Woodley, Timmons, Foote and Farrior as their starting five and even introduced all five as starters at home games.
They'll form the nucleus of the linebacking corps again in 2009 – with the team working on a contract extension with Harrison. Who the reserves will be, however, is up in the air.
Fox is an unrestricted free agent as is outside linebacker Andre Frazier. The team hopes Bruce Davis, a third-round draft pick in 2008, is ready to at least help out on special teams in 2009, while 2008 team rookie of the year Patrick Bailey may never be more than a special teams player.
The Steelers will also get Arnold Harrison back from a knee injury he suffered in the preseason in 2008, but if they are unable to re-sign Fox and Frazier – something they'd like to do – they'll need to add some depth.
San Diego's Marques Harris could be a nice fit at the right price. The former Southern Utah star has started six games in the last three years as a spot player for the Chargers at outside linebacker, also recording eight sacks.
New England's Pierre Woods is a restricted free agent, but the former Michigan star was signed as a rookie free agent and he could be a help at outside linebacker if the price is right.
On the inside, Detroit's Paris Lenon is a solid special teams player and could help ease the loss of Fox if he leaves. And as we all know, he fits the bill as a former Detroit player.
Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.