We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had eight primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only one of them, that being Bud Dupree on the franchise tag. Unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Javon Hargrave, B.J. Finney, Sean Davis, Tyler Matakevich, Nick Vannett, and Artie Burns. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton, as well as Zach Banner, Kameron Canaday, and Jordan Dangerfield on non-tender one-year deals. The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Boswell, and Vance McDonald were all restructured.
Also of note were the releases of Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, Johnny Holton, and Roosevelt Nix, and the retirement of Ramon Foster, as well as three significant signings in free agency, adding a new fullback in Roosevelt Nix, a potential starting lineman in Stefen Wisniewski, and a new tight end in Eric Ebron.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 5
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 2
Devin Bush: The Steelers gave up second- and third-round picks to move up 10 spots in the first round last year to get this guy. He put up over 100 tackles with six takeaways, including two interceptions and four fumble recoveries, also with a forced fumble and a defensive touchdown (nearly two).
Vince Williams: One of the grizzled veterans of the defense, second-long-tenured behind Old Man Heyward, Williams is back under the spotlight this year after Barron and Bush stepped into starting roles ahead of him. The thumper continues to thump.
Ulysees Gilbert III: A sixth-round pick, Gilbert is an athletic prospect who saw 150 special teams snaps in seven games before succumbing to a back injury. His preseason showing on defense was strong, indicating coverage ability that the team is looking for.
Robert Spillane: Signed from the practice squad halfway through the season, Spillane made the most of his opportunities on special teams, registering 11 tackles in just eight games. I also liked his preseason tape and think he could be a more mobile Matakevich who could potentially have defensive viability.
Christian Kuntz: Kuntz was in camp last year, but he was as much a long snapper as he was a linebacker. After coming over from the XFL, he is back, but is still a longshot.
Mark Barron: A free agent signing a year ago, it didn’t take long for Barron to find the door, though it was really a salary cap issue more than anything. He was a primary starter last year who played more as the year went on, and he seemed to be growing more comfortable in the system. But they drafted Bush after signing him.
Tyler Matakevich: Matter Cabbage, special teams extraordinaire, got a whole bunch more money from the Bills than the Steelers would or could or should have reasonably paid. Good on him, but the team was wise not to try to step up their offer.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
This is one of those positions where they could address it if the value made sense, but they could also consider passing. Gilbert and Spillane are virtually entirely inexperienced defensively, yet I get the sense that they are high on the former and what he can do in his second season, perhaps with some optimism about Spillane as well. Remember, they have trotted out Matakevich defensively at least a bit each year.