The Pittsburgh Steelers, and NFL for that matter, have officially hit the offseason. With a month before contracts officially expire, and the new league year begins, the Steelers will need to start game planning their future.
In this series we will look at every position group of the Pittsburgh Steelers and what the team will do with the players that were on the 2021 roster, and how they should rebuild the spots heading into the 2022 season!
Today we look at perhaps the second most polarizing position of the Steelers offseason. The inside linebackers are in need of re-enforcements and rapid improvement. The addition of Brian Flores as Linebackers coach will certainly help with the latter, but the Steelers have a number of moves to make at the position. From cuts, to fifth-year options, draft picks, and free agent additions — everything is on the table.
The 2021 Roster
Devin Bush (1-Year $6 Million (Possible 5th year option))
Joe Schobert (3-Years $9.7 Million)
Robert Spillane (RFA)
Ulysees Gilbert III (1-Year 996K)
Marcus Allen (RFA)
Buddy Johnson (3-Years 949K)
The 2021 season came as a bit of a shock for the Steelers inside linebackers. Devin Bush took a step back in his development, and the acquired Joe Schobert faded into the background when he was on the field. To be honest, at times it was hard to judge the linebacker struggles because of the incompetency of some of the defensive lineman on the team. Nonetheless, they were not good enough. The Steelers are able to return their entire linebacking unit from a year ago with Spillane and Allen both restricted free agents and everyone else still under contract; however, I anticipate either a dramatic restructure to Joe Schobert’s contract or him to be released. To me, the latter is far more likely.
When Devin Bush was first drafted Steelers fans anticipated the second coming of Ryan Shazier. At first look he seemed to be developing in the same sort of manner, but an ACL tear in 2020 slowed his progression drastically. The Steelers acquiring inside linebackers coach Brian Flores will look to be a last ditch effort to get him back on the right track and back on his previous 2019/early 2020 pace and becoming one of the best linebackers in the sport. There is patience to be had with Bush, and hopefully he can return to form he showed at the beginning of his sophomore season.
Should they look to add a player
This is a must add position for the Pittsburgh Steelers. I anticipate the release of Joe Schobert over the coming weeks and some other veteran to be brought in as a replacement. One of the names that first jumped into my mind was New England Patriots inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who the Steelers had interest in back in 2017 and blossomed under Flores’ tutelage in New England. This move isn’t 100% likely, but the signing of the new coach made this seem a whole lot more realistic in my eyes.
Sure, Hightower is older than what the typical Steelers free agent signing looks like, but his knowledge of Flores’ systems and abilities on the field would pair nicely beside Bush. It could be a move which could help this team progress into the future. The Steelers could of course draft another inside linebacker, but in doing so pushes Buddy Johnson down the depth chart who also deserves a look himself. I think free agency is the way to go at this position and I believe they need to bring in someone who will make an immediate impact.
How should the group look in 2022
I believe this position group should still feature Devin Bush as a starter, at least to begin the 2022 season. Beside him I would want the free agent signing I talked about before, most specifically Hightower. Behind Bush and a free agent, bringing back Spillane on his RFA deal makes sense with Buddy Johnson rounding out the top four inside linebackers. With Flores now in the mix, I think everyone will be better especially if the defensive line can return to form with the healthy bodies coming back into play. I believe 2022 can be a resurgence for the inside linebackers, and things are trending in the right direction. Bringing in the right piece to play beside Bush is the key here and something which is certainly possible to happen. Let’s see if the Steelers can pull it off.
But what do you think? What should the Steelers Inside Linebacker position look like at the start of the 2022 season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Check out the other position previews below: