It’s rare that a seventh-round picks makes it all the way through the completion of his rookie contract. Some positions are more likely than others to have fewer opportunities to stick around for the long haul. But the best way to keep your foot in the door is by showing up on special teams, year after year.
That’s what Tyler Matakevich has done throughout his four-year career for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and why he is likely to be the only member of the 2016 NFL Draft class on the team’s roster in 2020, with Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave all anticipated to sign with other teams in free agency.
While the Steelers’ linebackers have been plucked before—see L.J. Fort just last season—I wouldn’t think there’s much of a market for Matakevich beyond what he brings as a four-phase player on special teams. He rarely plays on defense, and I don’t suspect any other team would be viewing him as somebody they are looking to get on the field in that capacity either.
As much as he would like to play on defense, and as much as he continues to believe that he’s fully capable of doing it at this level, however, he remains content with whatever lot is afforded to him, because he recognizes that any opportunity to make a career out of playing in the NFL is a blessing.
“Am I going to be one of the guys who are in the category like, ‘I don’t want to do that?’”, he told Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “You do that, then boom, that’s the end of it. That’s my value. I know what I bring at that and the numbers I put up at that”.
In 2019, Matakevich tied for the league lead with 16 special teams tackles—notably, Jordan Dangerfield and Robert Spillane were high on the list as well. Spillane had 10 special teams tackles in just eight games.
He has had at least 10 tackles on special teams in every year of his career, with 16 being his career-high, totaling 53 in all. I believe that is the most in the NFL over that span, though of course the special teams roles of some players may come and go.
“I mean, do I wanna do this? Are you kidding me?”, he added. “You are telling me you want me to run down on kickoffs for 10 years? Are you kidding me? I’ll tackle the guy with the ball. I have been doing this since I was 9 years old. ‘Find the guy with the ball!’”.
In the event that the Steelers do release Mark Barron to save cap space, Matakevich is probably more likely to receive a multi-year contract, though obviously with a relatively low-dollar amount. With Spillane emerging in the second half of the season and Ulysees Gilbert III returning, however, they do have some linebackers who can play special teams.