The Pittsburgh Steelers examined their inside linebacker room over the course of this offseason and found it wanting. Not only did they release one of their starters from last season, they allowed at least one other prominent player to leave in free agency without even a contract offer. Possibly even two.
With their top three players gone, seemingly all with the Steelers’ blessing, the team added reinforcements in free agency, signing Cole Holcomb to a three-year, $18 million deal and Elandon Roberts to a two-year, $7 million deal. So where does that leave them?
“I think they’re running in place”, 93.7 The Fan host Joe Starkey argued recently, as he, Ron Cook, and Bob Pompeani debated what the Steelers have done at the inside linebacker position. Neither Roberts nor Holcomb exactly broke any contract records, that’s for sure.
Holcomb’s $6 million per season ranks outside the top 20 among all active contracts for off-ball linebackers in the NFL. It is less than what the Steelers were paying Myles Jack, whom they signed to a two-year, $16 million deal in 2022 before releasing him last month.
Holcomb was a fifth-round pick out of North Carolina in 2019, spending his first four seasons in the league with the Washington Commanders. He became an every-down player in 2021, logging over 1,000 snaps that season, but an injury last year limited him to just seven games.
He is a tackling machine when healthy, however, including 142 tackles during the 2021 season. He has averaged more than nine tackles per game since becoming an every-down player, though he can stand to make more impact plays. In coverage, he did have seven passes defensed in his last full season, including two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
His play in coverage can run hot and cold. His athletic ability and instincts will often serve him well, but missed tackles and touchdowns allowed have understandably tempered enthusiasm for what he will bring in this area.
And as far as Roberts goes, nobody really expects him to do much in coverage—least of all himself. He knows he’s a downhill player who is being brought in to hit. Already established with a three-safety look by retaining Damontae Kazee and adding Keanu Neal, it’s very likely that, if Roberts is the starter, he comes off the field frequently on third downs.
Time will tell whether or not the Steelers are running in place at inside linebacker, and I don’t think anybody would be surprised if they were back on the market looking for upgrades a year from now. It remains to be seen if they will try to tackle the matter in the draft. Given some comments this offseason, they may be more comfortable relying on veterans.