Player: Tyler Matakevich
Position: Inside Linebacker
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2019 Salary Cap Hit: $735,763
2019 Season Breakdown:
The last unrestricted free agent that we have left to talk about (though there are several restricted and exclusive rights free agents) is Tyler Matakevich, a tackling machine out of Temple who has lasted four seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers after carving out a niche for himself as a core special teams player.
Not only is he among the league leaders in special teams tackles made over the course of the past four years, he has also blocked or partially blocked multiple punts on special teams. He has recorded a pass defensed on a fake punt pass attempt as well. There’s no questioning at this point that he is a very good special teams player.
The issue is, of course, that this is what he is limited to doing, something the Steelers have informally acknowledged. He only saw 16 defensive snaps last season, the fewest in his career, after playing 60 and 54 in the previous two years. Previously, the team would bring him onto the field in the goal line defense as an extra linebacker. He was exposed pretty badly in that package several times, particularly in 2017, as I recall.
In the offseason, the Steelers went out and signed Mark Barron in free agency. Then they traded up to draft Devin Bush 10th overall. As if this were not enough, they went back and double dipped on speedy inside linebackers with Ulysees Gilbert III. The point is, the team made clear they realized they had to get more athletic at the position.
Free Agency Outlook:
It can be hard at times to gauge what the market is of a player who is viewed largely as a special teams-only guy. In 2018, for example, they signed safety Nat Berhe to a one-year contract that, if I recall correctly, was a qualifying offer. But Matakevich is a much better special teams player.
Another comparison would be safety Michael Thomas, whom the Steelers also looked at. He signed a two-year, $4 million deal that included $1.5 million guaranteed. The quintessential special teamer is Matthew Slater. He signed for $5.2 million over two years. He only got a $1 million signing bonus, and this past season was an option year.
But the point is, a quality special teams player, which Matakevich is, has a market value that can hit $2 million or more per season. Matakevich earned $2.4 million over his first four seasons in the league from his rookie contract. Chance are he’s not going to have a better chance to ‘cash in’ than there currently is.
With that in mind, and with Gilbert and Robert Spillane sitting there, it is worth wondering if Matakevich may leave. I know not many people are going to tear at their eyelids over this, but there’s no doubt the team as a whole is better with him on it, as one of the very most important special teamers in Pittsburgh, and around the league.