Steelers betting on youth by letting Lawrence Timmons walk

Consider this forecasting the decline before it happens.

Lawrence Timmons might have one very good year left. Maybe he has two, enough to fulfill his new two-year, $12-million contract with the Miami Dolphins.

But the Pittsburgh Steelers put sentiment aside and assumed Timmons' play will probably fall off eventually, marking the end of an era for a highly productive player and the first draft pick of the Mike Tomlin tenure in 2007. Giving the 30-year-old Timmons $11 million in guaranteed money was simply too steep for Pittsburgh.

The player picked one spot after Darrelle Revis recorded more than 90 tackles in each of the past seven seasons, made a Pro Bowl and played inspired football in 2016 after shedding between 5 and 10 pounds.

But really, Timmons' improved play complicated a decision that appeared to be made back in August, when the team extended linebacker Vince Williams. The Steelers had the foresight to give Williams $2 million in base salary over the next two years knowing he can either grow into a full-time starter or remain as a productive special-teamer and swing linebacker. That way, Pittsburgh avoided having two of their top three linebackers entering free agency at once. Williams is a big hitter who's eager to capitalize on an enhanced role.

Timmons was coming off a down year for his standards, but to his credit, he increased his value with a contract year of 114 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and two interceptions.

The Steelers did want Timmons back and kept in contact with his agent, Drew Rosenhaus. But they weren't going to throw big money at a player turning 31 in May.

When ESPN reported earlier in the week that Timmons was visiting the Dolphins, the marriage felt pretty much over.

Timmons' career in Pittsburgh should not go overlooked. He handled many responsibilities for the defense, from run-stuffing to blitzing to covering tight ends. The Steelers will try to work Williams or an additional free agent/draft pick into that role.

If it wasn't the case already, the teeth of the Pittsburgh defense belongs to Ryan Shazier, who makes the calls in the huddle and is eyeing his first complete season to match his stunning athleticism.