The Steelers added depth to key positions this offseason, but linebacker was not one of them. Here’s why ignoring help was Pittsburgh’s riskiest move.
The Pittsburgh Steelers did a lot of things right this offseason, despite having one of the worst cap situations in the league and without a lot of money to go around, Kevin Colbert and his crew managed to land cheap, proven players this offseason like Eric Ebron, Chris Wormley, and Stefen Wisniewski. However, one position they didn’t seek any help at was inside linebacker.
Despite the improvements from rookie Devin Bush over the course of the 2019 season, linebacker was still the weakest position on Pittsburgh’s defense last season. Bush, Mark Barron, and Vince Williams combined to allow 8 touchdowns in coverage and allowed an average passer rating of 104.9 to opposing quarterbacks.
But despite their struggles here, nothing was done to improve the position this offseason, in fact, the Steelers may have done the opposite by allowing Tyler Matakevich to hit the market this offseason and cutting Mark Barron.
Steelers trusting their LB depth is a major risk
As of now, the Steelers will be relying heavily on the 21-year-old Devin Bush to lead the charge at linebacker, but the depth outside of him is shaky at best. Vince Williams is now in his 30s and played just 37 percent of defensive snaps last season. At this point in his career, he is simply an early-down linebacker who is a liability in pass coverage.
Ulysses Gilbert and Robert Spillane are currently projected to round out the depth at the position, and while both have flashed for a brief moment in time, neither player has proven anything yet in the NFL.
Though the Steelers are unquestionably in a closing Super Bowl window, it’s still surprising that they didn’t look to address the inside linebacker position in the draft or free agency. Perhaps they aren’t done yet.
I recently wrote an article about three linebackers the Steelers should trade for before the 2020 season – each of which would come with coverage ability and at a very reasonable cost to the team. Pittsburgh could also be flirting with the idea of bringing back Mark Barron on a veteran minimum deal to add depth and experience to the roster.
If the Steelers elect not to make a move at linebacker, their depth becomes scary very quickly. If Devin Bush were to go down with an injury in 2020, Gilbert will be forced into his role alongside an aging Vince Williams. Gilbert already projects to step into a much bigger role this year, as he could be the nickel linebacker asked to fill Barron’s shoes. If that is the case, their depth will run out quick and Williams will be forced to play much more than he should at this point in his career.
The Steelers may have a plan of attack at inside linebacker we don’t know about yet, or perhaps their backups are much better than we give them credit for. Either way, it’s not hard to see why ignoring the position this offseason was deemed Pittsburgh’s riskiest move since the season ended.