With the Steelers’ 2022 season unfortunately now in the rearview mirror, a 9-8 campaign that came up short too late in spite of a strong second half, we now turn our attention to the offseason, and the many decisions that will have to be made over the course of the next several months.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Decisions about the coaching staff must also be made, as well as who to prioritize in free agency, and what to look for from the outside, before getting to the draft.
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Inside linebacker Mark Robinson will open his second season as a starter.
Explanation: The 2022 seventh-round pick was a healthy scratch for most of his rookie season, but the Steelers allowed him to play a fair bit in the final few games, this in spite of the fact that their future depended on it. While he showed traits that they drafted him for, he was also decidedly raw and in need of further development.
He may be the last man standing. Devin Bush is a pending free agent and certainly doesn’t feel likely to return. Meanwhile, Myles Jack was mostly serviceable but offered low impact, and at $8 million in base salary for 2023, that could be prohibitively pricey.
The Steelers will inevitably bring in another linebacker or two to add to the mix if neither of them return, but Robinson is a player they profiled as a fit for their system, needing only the opportunity to develop. He will get the time required this offseason with the expectation that he will make that key second-year jump.
If you actually watched Robinson closely in the games he played this year, you would see a guy who is flying around, certainly, but also a guy who isn’t really sure what he’s supposed to be doing. He had mental errors that cost the defense, and they can’t afford to have that in the starting lineup.
The Steelers have had a certain way of working the inside linebacker position since Ryan Shazier’s injury. Sign a guy to a two-year deal and cut him after one. there was Jon Bostic and Mark Barron. You can include Joe Schobert in this discussion. Jack could be next.
Or they could keep him, even extend him to lower his cap hit, or add a void year or two. But even if they do, they’ll simply at another JAG starter to plug into his place. At least somebody is going to be there. While I recognize that Robinson is new to the position, I’m not confident he’s going to become a master of the craft. I know it’s blasphemy to suggest a fan favorite isn’t going to be an All-Pro, but there you have it.