The Steelers signing Kwon Alexander feels like more of the same at ILB
The Steelers surprisingly finalized a one-year deal over the weekend with Kwon Alexander, a veteran inside linebacker, formerly of the Buccaneers, 49ers, Saints and Jets. With 86 starts under his belt, including 12 a season ago in New York, along with 590 tackles, eight interceptions and 12.5 sacks during his eight-year career, Alexander, soon-to-be 29, seemed like the kind of signing who would have really excited fans in, say, March.
But it was back then that Pittsburgh, under the guidance of general manager Omar Khan, signed veterans Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts to be the starting inside linebackers in 2023. Holcomb, who turned 27 on Sunday, was the more celebrated acquisition and came to the Steelers with 388-career tackles, three interceptions and 4.5 sacks. A fifth-round pick by the Commanders in the 2019 NFL Draft, Holcomb was said to have good coverage skills while also being a “tackling machine.”
As for Roberts, 29, he came to town as a former sixth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft and was said to be the thunder to Holcomb’s lightning— or a poor man’s Vince Williams (under that scenario, I suppose Holcomb would be the utterly homeless version of Ryan Shazier). Roberts was described as the proverbial thumper who racked up 457 tackles and 11 sacks in stints with both the Patriots and Dolphins.
I’m not saying the signing of Alexander was because Holcomb and Roberts aren’t what they were said to be back in the spring; it just feels like Alexander would be best suited as a starting inside linebacker, given his abilities and, heck, even his comparatively loftier draft-status as a former fourth-round pick.
Instead, Alexander is being celebrated as a great depth piece at inside linebacker.
But I have a hard time believing that’s really why Alexander is here.
I realize he suffered some serious injuries over his first eight seasons— including a torn ACL (2018); torn pectoral muscle (2019); torn Achilles (2020); and an elbow injury (2021)— but he did play in all 17 games for the Jets in 2022 and recorded 69 tackles. You can argue that Alexander will be a good insurance policy, considering Holcomb’s own health issues— the latter suffered a season-ending foot injury in 2022.
I don’t really know what to make of the Alexander deal. I don’t know what now to make of Holcomb and Roberts. For that matter, I don’t know what any of this says about Mark Robinson, a seventh-round pick out of Mississippi in the 2022 NFL Draft, and a player who just seemed to be scratching the surface of his abilities during his rookie season.
The Steelers have a remarkably rich history at both inside and outside linebacker. They’ve also experienced an alarming recent trend of veteran linebackers not being happy with their backup roles.
Will that be Alexander?
Will he supplant Roberts or even Holcomb as a starter, and will that then make one of those guys disgruntled?
This feels like Deja Vu all over again.
You’ll excuse me if I’m having flashbacks to the signing of Jon Bostic, an accomplished veteran, in 2018. I’m also recalling the acquisition of Mark Barron, an accomplished veteran, in 2019. Remember the trade for Avery Williamson, an accomplished veteran, midway through the 2020 campaign? Williamson was supposed to make up for the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Devin Bush, a 2019 first-round pick and the answer to the loss of Shazier in 2017. Williamson was long gone by the summer of 2021, but there was hope that Bush would rebound from his knee injury. In the meantime, Pittsburgh traded for Joe Schobert, an accomplished veteran, just prior to the start of the regular season.
Anyway…the Steelers signed another former Jaguars linebacker during the 2022 free-agent frenzy. I’m talking about Myles Jack, an accomplished player who would possibly act as a great veteran presence alongside Bush, someone who became surprisingly stubborn and rebellious in 2021 while also not rebounding from his 2020 knee injury.
Now, here we are in 2023.
I can’t decide if Alexander is the new Bostic, Barron, Schobert or Jack. Is Holcomb the new Schobert or the new Jack? Is Roberts the new Vince Williams? Or is Robinson, a thumper in his own right, the younger version of Roberts?
Is anyone capable of approaching the abilities of the old Shazier?
That was supposed to be Devin Bush, so probably not.
The Steelers keep throwing stuff at the inside linebacker wall. Maybe one of the new guys— including Kwon Alexander— will stick. If not, I’m sure there will be a few accomplished veterans to sign in 2024.