The Steelers’ loss of their athletic stalwart in Devin Bush is a loss that this defense is going to have a hard time recovering from. Even with the promising play of Robert Spillane against Cleveland, there are still significant questions to be answered. For one, who gets the green dot moving forward.
What happens if Spillane happens to get hurt himself? Could the Steelers look outside the organization? All of these are questions that have to come up when discussing this situation. At this point, there is no great answer, as it is unlikely the Steelers will fully replace Bush. However, in order to at least fill his shoes a bit, here are some options the Steelers have moving forward.
Move Forward With a Rotation
Mike Tomlin made it clear in his press conference Tuesday that while Spillane will get significant snaps, this is not just going to be a one-for-one substitution with Bush and Spillane.
“I doubt Robert Spillane will be playing all the defensive snaps, so it will probably require a combination of people in an effort to replace Devin Bush,” Tomlin said. “That’s not unusual under the circumstances, but all that remains to be hashed out. Just rest assured that we are comfortable with the capabilities of all the men and there will be no excuses in terms of the performance of those that occupy the role.”
Based on the comments and the fact that Spillane took all the snaps that once belonged to Bush, it would stand to mean that Spillane will work in the base 3-4 alongside Vince Williams. However, in sub-packages, Tomlin hints at a rotation here. Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III will have huge opportunities to clear out bigger roles going forward. Tomlin shows confidence in those players with his comments here.
Spillane is getting an audition test here on Sunday against the Titans. Most importantly, it is unknown what Spillane’s skillset in coverage is at this time. The tape from last Sunday against the Browns proved Spillane loves to hit and has great instincts, however. His role as a likely two-down linebacker could expand with a strong performance.
Gilbert III is the only player who has the rare athleticism of Bush in this linebacker unit. However, a demotion down the depth chart was not something that was foreseen after so much hype throughout the offseason. The Steelers mentioned in training camp that they view Gilbert III as essentially a rookie and are bringing him along slowly as a result. In sub-package defense, it would stand to say Gilbert III might get the first stab at things given how high the Steelers were on him throughout the Summer.
Allen, on the other hand, is a now converted safety. With good athleticism and hit power, he is really just a faster version of Spillane with worse instincts. He fits nicely into the Mark Barron type of role if that is what the Steelers want. However, there is no clear answer with anyone on the roster. The good news, at the very least, is there is lots of potential.
Trading for Jets LB Avery Williamson
There are zero reasons to rule out a possible trade at this point. There are a few candidates to pick from, but Avery Williamson makes the most sense on paper for a number of reasons. For one, the Jets are having a fire sale. They are just trying to get whatever value they can for their players at this point. With Williamson in the last year of his contract, there is a great chance he will be on the market. The Steelers could easily jockey up a day three pick to go acquire Williamson.
Even Williamson’s price tag is not too hefty in terms of the cap hit. The Steelers would easily be able to fit him under the cap. With good athleticism, solid instincts, and especially high peaks during his career, Williamson is not a perfect trade-off for Bush, but he fills the role that Bush played perfectly. The biggest thing the Steelers gain with him is experience and coverage ability.
The only concerning thing with Williamson is that he is coming off of a Torn ACL, but thus far on the season, he has looked quite good. Williamson’s fit feels about as good as the Steelers will get on the trade market.
Trading for Lions LB Jarrad Davis
Davis is a step down from Williamson in terms of talent, but the same principle makes sense here. The Lions are a middling team in the NFC North and could look to move assets at the trade deadline. Davis had his fifth-year option declined by the Lions this offseason and they could look to get any compensation possible for him as he is likely leaving this offseason anyway.
The Steelers met with Davis in the 2017 pre-draft process. They brought him to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit, in fact. That at the very least is a strong indicator that the Steelers could have an interest in him if he is on the market. Davis would bring athleticism, but lacks the instincts needed to be truly effective. It hurts him in coverage and he has never been able to rectify these issues as a result.
Davis could be a solid depth move, however. For a veteran with lots of experience, Davis does make some sense for the Steelers if they are looking to give up minimal draft capital to fill any hole they see.
Look at the Free Agent Market
The Steelers’ last true option is to look to the free-agent market. Unfortunately, it is a market that is rather bare. Some candidates could include Wesley Woodyard, Nigel Bradham, and Deone Bucannon.
Bucannon is the name to circle here. Much like Davis, the Steelers brought Bucannon to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit in 2014, so there could be mutual interest here. Even more prominent, Bucannon is a hybrid safety and linebacker and would at least bring some athleticism and coverage ability to the team. If the Steelers do not want to give up any draft capital and see some depth problems, Bucannon makes sense to fill that role.
Steelers Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada on Run Game, Roethlisberger
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada has spoken publicly for the first time since his promotion in late January.
Canada joined the latest edition of The Standard, the Steelers’ behind-the-scenes web series, and discussed a number of topics, including fixing the run game, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his offensive philosophy.
There is no denying Pittsburgh produced the least successful rushing attack in football a season ago, averaging just 84.4 yards per game and 3.6 yards per attempt.
Canada recognizes the Steelers need to improve significantly on the ground, a mandate he implied came down from Team President Art Rooney II.
“He’s made it very clear that that’s got to get better,” Canada said. “When all of us realized that we didn’t get it done we wanted to with our running game and all of who are here are part of that. And we’ve got to improve upon it in a multitude of ways and we’re certainly focused on it. We’re globally studying who’s running the ball well. We’ve always believed in running the football anywhere that I’ve been. You win up front. I believe that. We believe that. I know Coach Tomlin believes that.”
Not only will the Steelers have to better impose their will in the trenches, but Canada knows they will also have to remove the predictability that plagued them last season, especially in the passing game.
“You have to be able to run the football when they know you’re going to run it,” Canada added. “And you have to be able to throw the football when they know you’re going to throw it.”
Canada also gushed over Roethlisberger, who the Steelers announced will be returning for the 2021 season on a one-year contract Thursday.
“He’s such a great competitor. He competes at everything he does and his competitive drive is so strong and so awesome to be around no matter what we’re doing,” Canada said of Roethlisberger.
He also praised the 39-year-old’s accuracy, which he believes sets Roethlisberger apart from his peers.
“And then just his accuracy. And I’ve said this to one of my buddies who’s a quarterback coach somewhere else. Young quarterbacks, I wish there was some way for them to be here and watch how he practices putting the ball in certain spots. It’s such a unique talent that he’s able to do it.”
While Roethlisberger’s new deal has provided the Steelers some much needed financial flexibility, they will still undoubtedly have some tough departures once free agency begins in earnest.
Regardless which players do or do not remain in Pittsburgh heading into the 2021 season, Canada insists his offense will be multi-dimensional and cater to whatever personnel the Steelers have on the offensive side.
“We are going through and looking at the foundation of our offense. And building an offense that will be conducive to whatever talent that we have,” Canada said. “I don’t believe you have a certain system that works and this is all we’re going to do and we have to have the players for that. We have the players we have each year. Our job is to score more points than the team we play on each Sunday.”
Steelers Sign Center J.C. Hassenauer on One-Year Deal
The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed center J.C. Hassenauer to a one-year deal, first reported by ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.
Steelers sign center J.C. Hassenauer, an exclusive rights free agent, to a one-year deal, per source.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 4, 2021
An exclusive right free agent, Hassenauer was almost a lock to return to Pittsburgh in 2021. His new deal with the Steelers is worth $780,000.
Hassenauer proved a vital piece along the Steelers’ offensive line a season ago, seeing action in 15 games and making four starts. He was on the field for 23% of the team’s offensive stats, while also appearing on 50 special teams plays.
Prior to Pittsburgh, Hassenauer signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2018, spending the first seven weeks of the season on their practice squad.
He played for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football in 2019.
Hassenauer played his college ball at Alabama. He made just three career starts for the Crimson Tide, with his final coming in the 2018 College Football Playoff national championship game, a 26-23 overtime win over Georgia.
Hassenauer’s agent Blake Baratz confirmed the signing on Twitter on Thursday.
Steelers Estimated $3.6m Under Salary Cap after New Contract for Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers have are salary cap compliant and have an estimated $3.6 million in breathing room after renegotiating the contract of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Thursday, according to contract figures reported by NFL Network, salary cap data from OverTheCap.com and Steelers Now analysis.
Roethlisberger’s contract, which is technically a five-year deal, but will last only through the 2021 season before being voided will save the team $15.3 million under the 2021 salary cap.
Though the Steelers are finally in the black with regards to the 2021 salary cap, they will still likely need to make additional moves to shore up extra salary cap space. The team will need over $8 million in space to sign its 2021 NFL Draft class, the final two players for the 53-man roster and a practice squad. Only the top 51 contracts count toward the cap in the offseason.
The Steelers’ estimated $3.6 million in cap space is based on a $180 million salary cap, which is based on Steelers Now sources on several national reports. The final salary cap figure for 2021 has not yet been made official.
The team has a three contracts that can be restructured, those of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, kicker Chris Boswell and fullback Derek Watt, that could save the team around another $6 million.
The contracts of guard David DeCastro and cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson could also be extended or re-negotiated. All are entering the final season of their contract.
The Steelers have two dozen pending free agents, including starters Tyson Alualu, Zach Banner, Jordan Berry, James Conner, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva and key reserves Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton.
Starting center J.C. Hassenauer and backup inside linebackers Marcus Allen and Robert Spillane are exclusive rights free agents. Backup outside linebacker Ola Adeniyi and wide receiver and kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud are restricted free agents.