It’s hard to say what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starting inside linebacker tandem will look like come September, sitting here today. Most of their unit will become unrestricted free agents as of the start of the new league year in March. The only players from the 53-man roster under contract for 2023 are Myles Jack and Mark Robinson.
Where does Robert Spillane fit into that? Now entering his fifth season and hitting the open market for the first time, he sees himself as a full-time, every-down starter—and hopefully, in his case, in Pittsburgh. He did log some games in 2022 in which he played every snap.
“I’ve always felt like I could play three downs in this league,”, he said, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Going forward, I want to be a Steeler. I want to be a three-down linebacker here. So we will see what happens”.
A former college free agent out of Western Michigan, Spillane originally signed with the Tennessee Titans and logged a couple of games as a rookie in 2019. He found his way to the Steelers’ 90-man roster in training camp the following offseason and impressed enough to earn a spot on the practice squad initially.
Pittsburgh had drafted two inside linebackers that year, with Devin Bush in the first round and Ulysees Gilbert III in the sixth. The latter established himself as a fixture on special teams, but a midseason back injury landed him on the shelf. Spillane took his place on the 53 and on special teams and made it his own. He’s been on the 53-man roster for every game for which he’s been healthy since then.
His most extensive playing experience in terms of starts came the following season after Bush suffered a torn ACL, but he missed time with a knee injury himself. He logged more snaps this past year—nearly 600—even though he started fewer games, just five of 16 played.
But he played every single defensive snap over the final four games of the season. Jack was dealing with injuries at the time and was limited, even missing a game or two if memory serves. Bush’s role waivered week by week. The team even began giving the rookie Robinson a run over the final three games.
Spillane finished the year with a career-high 79 tackles including four for loss, with one sack and four passes defensed. He is a true football player at heart, and you won’t find anybody more dedicated to self-improvement than he is.
The question has always been whether or not he possesses all of the athletic tools to be a full-time player. Every-down linebackers tend to look more like Ryan Shazier than Vince Williams—more shake than bake—and Spillane plays like he’s been in the oven for a bit.
The Steelers have to decide how much they value Spillane this offseason, and if they see him as a full-time starter. He was slated to be one in 2021 before they made a late trade for Joe Schobert, who was then cut in March after signing Jack. Could Jack and his $8 million base salary now be cut and Spillane re-signed?