It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with 19 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Two other important players have retired, so there is more shuffling of the deck than normal in Pittsburgh.
Position: Inside Linebacker
Total Positional Figure: 7
Vince Williams: Among the longest-tenured Steelers remaining and part of the heart and soul of the defense, Williams has consistently been a team player over the course of his career, open to accepting whatever role was asked of him, that never being more prominent than in 2019 when they drafted Devin Bush and signed Mark Barron in free agency. Because of the major salary cap concerns they now have, however, the team could come to him looking for savings, in the form of a pay cut, or possibly even a release. Likely, though, as a last resort.
Devin Bush: The former 10th-overall pick had his second season end far too early with a torn ACL against the Browns, so he will start the 2021 season playing catch up. It’s clear, however, that the defense missed his speed when he wasn’t out there.
Robert Spillane: Earning the top backup spot last year, Spillane was called upon to play a critical role in the starting lineup after Devin Bush tore his ACL. Because of his play last year, it may enable the Steelers to consider the possibility of parting ways with Williams in a salary cap measure.
Ulysees Gilbert III: A former sixth-round pick about whom there was a lot of excitement, Gilbert’s problematic back has landed him on the Reserve/Injured List three times already in his first two seasons, and that has to be a concern going forward.
Marcus Allen: A former safety, Allen made the conversion to linebacker last year, and it’s probably fair to say that he remains in that transition. They did trust him enough to play the position when there was injuries, but can his upside rise to primary backup?
Tegray Scales: After spending time in the offseason with the Steelers in 2019, the Steelers brought Scales back on the practice squad in the middle of last season as injuries mounted. Issues continued to rise to the point that they had to elevate him twice, and then sign him to the 53-man roster to serve as depth.
Christian Kuntz: Suffice it to say that if Kuntz ever sees the field, a serious problem has arisen. The main reason he was re-signed to the practice squad last year was to serve as a backup long snapper.
The Steelers have enough depth here as is, but they will have to weigh their options and determine whether or not they might not have better use for Williams’ cap hit in light of the fact that Spillane played well when he was on the field and indicated that he could possibly move into the buck linebacker role.
In the event that the team does part ways with Williams, then the position goes back on the draft board as a need for depth, because neither former safety Allen nor oft-injured Gilbert can currently be relied upon as the number three, while Scales and Kuntz are, as of now, the proverbial and perhaps pejorative ‘camp bodies’ until they show otherwise.