Putting together a team is by no means solely nor primarily about what you are able to add to the group year in and year out. More than anything, it’s about the pieces that you are able to keep together for a period of years, acquiring talent and giving them the structure to develop together into a cohesive unit.
By and large, the Pittsburgh Steelers do this better than most, and they return among the most snaps from the 2019 season as they head into this year, but they have still lost some significant players from a year ago, some of whom have been with the team for a while, like Ramon Foster, Javon Hargrave, Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and others.
Now that we’ve introduced you to all of the new faces that the Steelers have added to the team since the end of last season, it’s time to take stock of who is gone since then, and what their departure—whether by the team’s will or not—will impact their success or failure in 2020 and beyond.
Player: ILB Tyler Matakevich
Years Played: 4 (4 in Pittsburgh)
Snaps Played: 16 (149 career)
For more than any other player in this series, leaving out the special teams snaps does Tyler Matakevich an injustice. As a defensive player, as you see above, he played just 16 snaps in 2019, and a mere 149 over the course of his career. That completely ignores his greatest contributions, logging over 1200 snaps on special teams over his four-year career in Pittsburgh. And that’s actually why he’s not here anymore.
Originally drafted in the seventh round out of Temple in 2017, where he was a standout tackling machine but clearly not of the athletic makeup that has become virtually necessary at the NFL level today to play inside linebacker, Matakevich has made an NFL career for himself by running people down on special teams. The majority of his 77 career tackles have come in that third phase of the game, as well as a couple of blocked punts and a pass defensed on a fake punt attempt.
Outside of perhaps Javon Hargrave, Matakevich may be the player that the Steelers lost this year that they would have most liked to retain, but he managed to find an offer with the Buffalo Bills that they would not have paid, signing a two-year deal worth over $7 million. Perhaps they envision him more as a defensive contributor than the Steelers do.
As for Pittsburgh, they seem to feel comfortable with the special teams capabilities of a pair of young second-year inside linebackers, Ulysees Gilbert III, who has great athleticism, and Robert Spillane, who recorded double-digit special teams tackles in half a season, and who is like a slightly more athletic Matakevich.
This is, though, really all they have at inside linebacker after also letting Mark Barron go. Behind their starters, that is. Leo Lewis, an undrafted rookie, is literally the only other one on the team because the above-mentioned and Devin Bush and Vince Williams, so this position is thin.