Tyler Matakevich, admittedly one of the best special teams players in the NFL during his four-year career with the Steelers, quickly became a Bill at the start of free agency on Wednesday, after signing a two-year deal worth approximately $9 million.
- You know what Tyler Matakevich was never one of the best at during his time in Pittsburgh?
Playing inside linebacker. In fact, he was so ordinary at it that, three years after drafting him out of Temple in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers had to trade up to the 10th spot of the 2019 NFL Draft just to select Devin Bush. And that happened after they signed veteran Mark Barron to a lucrative enough deal last March.
- Yet, the Bills sought fit to sign him to such a decent contract.
That’s nine million dollars for a depth player and a special teams ace in an era when that part of the game is becoming less and less of a factor in the NFL.
Nice work if you can find it.
So why did the Bills offer Tyler Matakevich so much money? Because they could. According to Over The Cap, the Buffalo Bills currently have $32 million in cap space to play with. When you have that kind of social distancing (to kind of bring a little laughter into these tough times) between the amount of money you’ve already spent on players and your salary ceiling, a player like Matakevich is a luxury.
It’s the kind if thing you can do when you have money to play with. Will Tyler Matakevich make a huge difference for the Bills next season? Not unless he does something like block a punt during a critical moment in a key game.
- And that’s why it’s hard to get that worked up over the annual circus that is NFL free agency.
Anyone can sign players if they have the financial flexibility to do so. Those teams get patted on the back in March and April for their activity. If they’re lucky, they may even get added to the “winners” column of the many “NFL Free Agency Winners and Losers” articles that pop up this time of year.
Some are even more successful. Early in his tenure as owner, Daniel Snyder’s Washington Redskins repeatedly and vigorously completed for “off season Lombardi Trophy.” Indeed, former general manager Vinny Cerrato was the architect of multiple successful “off season Lombardi” runs.
- But the truly smart organizations make the most intelligent signings. Why? Because they have to.
They’re normally up against the cap thanks to being so consistently competitive; they must be wise with their money, with their decisions in free agency.
I’m not going to sit here and say that Pittsburgh, a team that had to cut several players and restructure the contracts of a few others just to make room under the cap (even after the signing of the new CBA increased the salary cap to over $198 million) is a free agent “winner” simply because it signed Derek Watt, a fullback and special teams demon, formally of the Los Angeles Chargers.
But Derek Watt, whose contract with the Steelers is reportedly for three years and over $9 million, will likely fill both Matakevich’s spot on special teams and the one previous held by Roosevelt Nix,who was cut on Wednesday after an injury-riddled 2019, as the team’s fullback.
- He could also do spot duty at tight end in a pinch.
What does that mean? The Steelers are likely going to expect more from Watt for his money than the Bills, who also had the capital to acquire receiver Stefon Diggs from the Vikings, will expect from Matakevich.
If Matakevich excels as a special teams ace but fails to improve as an inside linebacker, he’ll still be a valuable commodity for the Bills.
- The Steelers simply can’t afford that.
They also can’t afford to do much else in free agency this spring. But look at at this way. At least they didn’t have the “luxury” of spending $9 million on someone who can only excel on special teams.