The Steelers have established a pretty interesting tradition at linebacker by pairing a stud alongside a player who is “good enough.” The Steelers haven’t intended it that way. But injuries have a way of derailing those intentions.
- And that brings us to Robert Spillane.
Since stepping in for the injured Devin Bush in the middle of 2020, Spillane has shown himself to be one of those inside linebackers who is “good enough” for the Steelers defense to excel with him in the line up.
Now that Robert Spillane is about to become a free agent, will “Good enough” translate into a 2nd contract?
Capsule Profile of Robert Spillane’s Career with the Steelers
“Who?” That’s how most Steelers fans reacted when they saw Robert Spillane’s name on the inside linebacker depth chart entering 2020. Spillane was the one player whom the Steelers could not afford to have to play.
Yet play him they did when Devin Bush tore his ACL against Cleveland. Spillane played 50% of the snaps that day in a dominating Steelers win. The next week he made a hell of a hit on the goal line. The week after he took an interception to the house against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.
When injuries kept Spillane out of the Steelers lineup during the final four games of 2020, his absence was painfully noted. Yet for all the stability he brought to the middle of the Steelers defense, the Steelers still brought in Joe Schobert via trade in 2021 and the two split time.
- But the Steelers cut Schobert a year ago and offered Spillane a Restricted Free Agent tender.
Spillane began 2022 splitting time with Devin Bush and Myles Jack, but by the end of the year he was logging 100% of the snaps for the Steelers defense while Bush was on the bench and rookie Mark Robinson was getting his first NFL action.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning Robert Spillane
Is Spillane an athlete in the mold of Hardy Nickerson, Chad Brown, Lawrence Timmons and/or Ryan Shazier? Heck no. But Spillane IS the type of hard hitting, contact seeking, center strengthen inside linebacker who can fill the shoes once worn by Jerry Olsavsky, Larry Foote and Vince Williams.
Foote wears two Super Bowl rings, Jerry O. was a part-time starter in another and Vince Williams helped the Steelers get to an AFC Championship. No other NFL team is going to break the bank for Spillane. Keeping him in Pittsburgh is win-win.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Robert Spillane
Yeah. Those “little inside linebacker that could” stories are nice. And make no mistake about it, those players did distinguish themselves.
But ask yourself:
- How long did Larry Foote last in Detroit without James Farrior at his side?
- How secure was the center of the Steelers defense with Vince Williams and everyone the Steelers tried after losing Ryan Shazier?
- How confident were the Steelers in Spillane when Devin Bush was struggling back from his ACL tear?
The Steelers know what life is like with 2 down inside linebacker and they have no need to repeat it. Spillane’s success story is legit. But his story is driven by his status as an unheralded kid overplaying his rookie contracts.
Those tales rarely translate into successful second contracts, at least from the team’s perspective.
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Robert Spillane
Mike Tomlin, Teryl Austin and the Steelers defensive coaches like Robert Spillane. His end of the year snap count proves it. But what happens next is a bigger question.
Devin Bush is gone, Mark Robinson is promising but unproven. Myles Jack was good but might be too expensiveS.
- Those amount to a lot of unknowns, and signing Spillane can help provide stability.
Expect that to happen, save for the caveat that the Steelers can’t get into a bidding war to retain him. (And they won’t.)