The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Buddy Johnson will earn defensive playing time this season.
Explanation: While many may feel that the Steelers’ inside linebacker depth chart is set at the top three this year with Devin Bush, Vince Williams, and Robert Spillane, they did like Buddy Johnson enough to draft him in the fourth round, which, other than Bush, is the highest they’ve drafted the position since Ryan Shazier in 2014.
Think of it this way. The Steelers released Vince Williams earlier this season because they were very much willing, if necessary, to lose him. When they re-signed him, they did so only on a veteran-minimum contract with no bonus.
Robert Spillane is the player who started next to Williams after Devin Bush was injured last season. He started seven games in all before succumbing to injury himself, and at times was rotated out with Ulysees Gilbert III and then Avery Williamson. But the point is, he was a backup.
Of course Bush is the future of the position, but neither Williams nor Spillane are. Williams likely retires after this season, and will probably spend this year transitioning into a reserve role as Johnson gets on the field and the team gets a glimpse at him and his potential to be their next buck. Spillane is gone after the 2022 season anyway as an unrestricted free agent.
Being a mid-round pick doesn’t guarantee you much. Even a position as fungible as running back hasn’t been overly kind to the Steelers in producing reliable contributors in recent years. Johnson may be the highest-drafted inside linebacker other than Bush in six years, but that doesn’t mean he’s the most capable.
The only way Johnson gets on the field this year is if there are injuries, and that’s not ‘earned’ playing time. Bush isn’t coming off the field, like Shazier didn’t, while Williiams and Spillane and whoever the dime defender is will be more than enough to handle the rest of the responsibilities.