The Pittsburgh Steelers lost 1939 snaps at the inside linebacker position this offseason with both Devin Bush and Robert Spillane finding new homes in free agency and the team making the decision to release Myles Jack. Barring perhaps Spillane—or perhaps not—that does seem to have been the plan.
Indeed, they quickly restocked the room with two veteran options in Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, the pair bringing in between them roughly 6000 snaps of experience in the NFL as inside linebackers. They project to be the starters, and the Steelers are very pleased to have acquired both of them—having simply hoped to land one.
“When we were going through our free agency evaluations and our process, Elandon and Cole were both two players that we were targeting and hoping that we would be able to do business with at least one of them”, general manager Omar Khan told Max Starks yesterday for the team’s website. “Fortunately, we were able to get both of them”.
The Steelers signed Holcomb to a three-year, $21 million deal after four seasons with the Washington Commanders, with whom he evolved into an every-down player. He has averaged more than nine tackles per game over the past two seasons. In 2021, he recorded seven passes defensed, including two interceptions.
Roberts is a different sort of inside linebacker, one who embraces his size, violence, and physicality. He is more of a two-down linebacker—and his usage rate over the course of his career reflects that—but the Steelers like to use dime defenses. He registered 107 tackles on 680 snaps last season with 4.5 sacks.
Both share a love for the game and a natural leadership quality that the Steelers often covet in their players, whether it is free agent signings as in this case or in upcoming draft selections. Khan talked about how he felt their additions would enrich more than just the locker room.
“I think they’re gonna add a lot to the room and to the defense, and kind of like [Patrick Peterson] they’re gonna be great additions to the organization [and] the community and looking forward to seeing those guys on the field here soon”, he said.
But, of course, they still have to hold up their end of the bargain on the field, or they’ll find themselves joining the growing list of one-and-done linebackers that have come and gone since 2018, from Jon Bostic and Mark Barron to Avery Williamson, Joe Schobert, and now Jack.
Neither Holcomb nor Roberts were being viewed as top-of-the-market talents, those distinctions clearly going to Roquan Smith, who re-signed with the Baltimore Ravens last season after being acquired via trade, and Tremaine Edmunds, signing with the Chicago Bears. Even Matt Milano is making twice as much per season as Holcomb.
But as former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger notes, the Steelers tend to be bargain hunters in free agency, even if it means taking a chance on a guy whose market might have taken a hit due to injury. That would apply to Holcomb, who missed most of last season.