With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
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: Cole Holcomb will finally break the trend of one-and-one inside linebackers.
Explanation: Since Ryan Shazier’s career-ending injury, the Steelers have had a number of starts and stops while trying to fill the void at inside linebacker. Most were free agents brought in on two-year deals, so at least Cole Holcomb’s contract of three years is slightly different in that respect.
In some respects, the signing of Cole Holcomb is more in line with how the Steelers normally approach free agency. While they tend at times to go for the high-pedigreed players who didn’t pan out, they also like the overachievers whom they identify as primed for a bigger outlet.
Holcomb might not become a superstar, but he has the makings of a very solid, stable every-down linebacker. He has athleticism, physicality, and intelligence for the position, plus a hairstyle that should fit in well with the region, which is apparently important depending on who’s asking the questions.
Signed to a three-year, $18 million contract, he could have been poised for a bigger payday had he not gotten injured last season. If he continued on the trajectory he was on before the injury, we might not even be talking about him being in Pittsburgh.
As is so often the case with the Steelers’ deals, even though this was a three-year contract, that doesn’t mean they can’t get out of it after one year. Holcomb only got a signing bonus of a little more than $4.9 million, and he’s due to earn $6 million next season. That still leaves room for a release with some cap savings if he doesn’t work out.
And there’s a more than fair chance that he doesn’t. For one thing, he’s already competing with Elandon Roberts, with the Steelers hoping that one of them will turn out to be worth employing for more than one season. There’s also a good chance of them drafting a linebacker.
Beyond that, while he has a lot of attributes you’d like for the position, his athleticism has never helped him with tackling efficiency. Nor has it prevented him from missing a fairly high volume of tackles. His injury history doesn’t help him, either, especially not after a year with Myles Jack.