Player: Robert Spillane
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 2 Years
Free Agent Status: Exclusive Rights
2020 Salary Cap Hit: $616,176
2020 Season Breakdown:
A former undrafted free agent, Robert Spillane first caught on with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, making some headway in training camp and free agency, which was enough to earn a spot on the practice squad during a year in which they were particularly deep at the inside linebacker position.
Having just signed Mark Barron in free agency and drafting Devin Bush and Ulysees Gilbert III, the team also retained Vince Williams and special teams ace Tyler Matakevich, leaving them with five at the position on the 53-man roster.
They didn’t even need to carry Spillane as a sixth on the practice squad because of that. They did it because they liked him that much. And after Gilbert succumbed to a back injury in the middle of the year, Spillane took over his roster spot and tore it up on special teams.
He didn’t have the benefit of a full offseason or even the preseason, but with Barron and Matakevich done, he showed the coaches enough to decide that he could be the top backup, and that became a necessary role after Bush suffered a season-ending knee injury.
He ultimately started seven games, registering 45 tackles with four for loss and two sacks. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown and four passes defensed, plus a fumble recovery. But he suffered a knee injury of his own late in the year that cost him the final four games of the regular season.
By and large, there is a general feeling that he may have shown enough to the coaches and front office to believe that, if necessary,, he would be capable of holding down a full-time starting job, ideally next to Bush as the athletic mack and everydown man.
Free Agency Outlook:
There is only one path forward for Robert Spillane, as dictated by his status as an exclusive rights free agent. His only option, provided that the Steelers extend him an offer, is to re-sign with the club. The alternative would be not to play. The only way he could avoid this would be if the team didn’t offer him anything, which would make him a street free agent able to sign anywhere.
But that’s not going to happen. Spillane became their top backup inside linebacker at the start of last season, and then, due to injury, had the opportunity to show that he was capable of starting, which is a far cry from the special teams ace he looked to be carving himself out to be in 2019.
There is a realistic possibility that the Steelers will cut Williams as a salary cap casualty, in doing so saving a little over $3 million in cap space after roster displacement. If they do decide to do this, it will be shaped by their belief that Spillane is very much capable of stepping into that role himself, with Bush set to return in 2021.