Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: ILB Robert Spillane
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: The Steelers’ decision to use a fourth-round pick to bring in Buddy Johnson poses a challenge to the potential for Robert Spillane to field a long-term starting role in this defense.
I don’t know whether or not this is going to be taken as a controversial position—there seems to be a good number of people who believe that Robert Spillane will start over Vince Williams this season, or at least command an equal share of the role—but for me, it’s clearly bad news for him that the Steelers drafted Buddy Johnson.
Outside of Devin Bush, it’s the earliest the Steelers have used a draft pick on an inside linebacker since Ryan Shazier in 2014, for one thing. No other off-ball linebacker they’ve added has even come close to a starting role during that interval. But Johnson feels a lot like the next Vince Williams, with a possible upgrade in coverage if he can get his game together.
Spillane started seven games for the team last season after Bush was injured, and he showed that he is capable of playing in this league, with his tape even indicating that he would be better-suited to play at the buck, which is where he would be playing with Bush back.
In other words, this isn’t about whether or not one thinks Spillane could play; there is evidence to suggest that he can. It’s more about Johnson and his future, which could result in him starting as early as next year if he has a good rookie season.
Another thing to take into consideration is the fact that Spillane will be a restricted free agent tin 2022, and an unrestricted free agent in 2023. In other words, they only really have control over him for one more year. If he’s going to play at a starter’s level this season, and they want to keep him next year, they’ll probably have to tender him at a second-round level to keep teams away.
Even failing that, again, he is free to sign with anybody two years from now. Johnson will still have two years left on his rookie contract at that point. If the two are even close in terms of their level of play, assuming Johnson doesn’t already have control of the starting job by then, you can guess what the Steelers’ decision will be.
Of course, Spillane wouldn’t be complaining too much, since it would mean that he signed a good deal elsewhere, though one would hope for his sake that it works out more like Tyler Matakevich’s relationship with the Buffalo Bills than L.J. Fort’s with the Philadelphia Eagles, even if he’s since landed on his feet in Baltimore.