The Steelers first inside linebacker depth chart is as expected
On Sunday night the Pittsburgh Steelers released their first depth chart of the 2023 NFL season. There were numerous things on the chart that created some discussion with one being the hierarchy at inside linebacker. While some expect Kwon Alexander to possibly break into the starting lineup, he was listed on the second team behind Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts.
With none of the Steelers rookies landing on the first team at any position, and several being placed lower than expected, there’s a pretty good indication that this depth chart is basically the same as it was when training camp began with various roster moves being the only thing that changed players in and players out. For this reason, the top of the inside linebacker depth chart is not surprising in the least.
Last season, the Steelers primarily utilized three inside linebackers throughout the season. Even though things didn’t exactly work out with the individual players as none of them are still with the team, it doesn’t mean that the three-man philosophy is something the Steelers will abandon. Additionally, based on the players they have and the continued development of Mark Robinson who is likely to be filling the same fourth-option role again this season, I will be focusing on the hierarchy of the top three players at inside linebacker for the Steelers at this time.
Looking at the configuration of the first depth chart, the first indication as to the starting position with players at inside linebacker came once the final salary cap numbers were known for Kwon Alexander. While players will have the continued opportunity to earn more or less playing time as well as a starting position, where players started training camp seems to be exactly where they fall in the hierarchy in terms of salary. When looking at the expected top three inside linebackers for the Steelers in 2023, they were all signed to the Steelers this year. Additionally, they all have a very different contract in terms of years and salary.
Cole Holcomb was signed by the Steelers at the beginning of the league year to a three-year deal for $18 million which gives him an average per year (APY) of $6 million. Days later, Elandon Roberts was signed to a two-year deal for $7 million with an AYP of $3.5 million. When it comes to Kwon Alexander, he signed a one-year veteran salary benefit contract with the maximum signing bonus which will pay him just over $1.3 million but only carries a salary cap hit of just above $1 million. Looking strictly at the investment of both years and money, it is quite obvious the Steelers were starting their inside linebacker hierarchy going Holcomb, Roberts, then Alexander.
When looking at the hierarchy for the Steelers inside linebackers, it has a striking resemblance to the 2022 position group. While the Steelers have different players who will hopefully give them improved play, the difference in the salaries lines up in an interesting way. First of all, the APY for the Steelers 2022 linebackers of Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and Robert Spillane, comes in at $15 million. For 2023, the Steelers top three players come in significantly less at $10.8 million. So while it is hopeful that the Steelers have better play at the position, it does appear they will be paying less for the players they hope to use.
For the 2022 inside linebackers, Myles Jack lead the way in salary with an $8 million APY and had the most playing time as he played 65% of the defensive snaps. Devin Bush carried just over a $4.7 million APY during his rookie contract and played 62% of the defensive snaps while Robert Spillane‘s restricted free agent tender of $2.433 million had him playing 55% of the snaps. Additionally, as the number of snaps decreased on defense for these players, they had an increased number of special team snaps with Spillane seeing the most and Jack playing the least.
Looking at the breakdown of playing time from last season compared to the player salaries, it would not be shocking if the Steelers are planning on implementing a similar strategy for 2023 in regards to playing time. The Steelers likely expect to have Cole Holcomb take the majority of their inside linebacker snaps while utilizing Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander in various situations that would play in to their expertise. Additionally, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Alexander log the most special team snaps out of the three players.
Ultimately it will be the play on the field that determines who sees more action for the Steelers inside linebackers, but looking at where they fall in the salary hierarchy likely gives a good indication of what the Steelers plan to do. If the Steelers are getting outstanding play from a different combination of linebackers, then the numbers should definitely be tweaked. But until then, it makes a lot of sense for the Steelers depth chart to fall in line with the contracts they signed this offseason.
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