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The Pittsburgh Steelers have some big decisions to make concerning both of their starting inside linebackers. In the case of former first-round pick Devin Bush Jr., the organization has until May 2 to decide whether it wants to pick up his fifth-year option, which would bind him to the team through the 2023 season.
The club also has to decide whether it is willing to keep fellow inside linebacker Joe Schobert at the $8.75 million salary he is scheduled to earn in 2022, as per overthecap.com. Schobert’s job is threatened not because of a lack of productivity, but because his release can provide significant salary cap savings with a relatively small cap charge. Cutting him before June 1 would trigger a dead money charge of $1,880,000, while providing cap savings of $7,834,000.
That helps explain why Pro Football Focus (PFF) has identified Schobert as the Steelers’ top “cut candidate.” That and the fact that Schobert is “coming off a second consecutive season earning a (PFF) grade below 55.0,” writes PFF’s Brad Spielberger.
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The Argument For Keeping Joe Schobert
On the other hand, Schobert was second on the team in tackles in 2021 (70 solo, 112 total), according to Pro Football Reference. He also had a half-dozen passes defensed, an interception and a forced fumble. In addition, one has to wonder how much his play was compromised by the fact that the Steelers played all—or almost all—of the 2021 season without two of the team’s top three defensive linemen, namely Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, which likely contributed to Bush’s struggles as he attempted to come back from a torn ACL suffered in October 2020.
Bush figures into the equation in another way as well. As noted by Spielberger, “Devin Bush has not developed into the player the Steelers hoped for when they traded up to draft him at No. 10 overall in 2019, so maybe Schobert can find a way to stick around,” at least until next offseason, when his salary is scheduled to balloon to $10.25 million.
That’s basically what Mark Kaboly of The Athletic expects to see happen.
“The Steelers have time with Schobert,” he wrote in a recent column. They can wait and see how free agency plays out and how the draft goes before making a decision. They can also wait until before the season as well, if Schobert doesn’t show improvement.”
But the bottom line is that “$10 million isn’t a lot of money for a linebacker who has 112 tackles,” he concludes, making reference to the veteran linebacker’s $9.72 million total cap charge. “They will keep Schobert.”
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Inside Linebacker Robert Spillane is a Restricted Free Agent
Last but not least, the Steelers also have to make a decision on inside linebacker Robert Spillane, who is a restricted free agent, according to Steelers.com, having earned $850,000 (per overthecap.com) on the one-year contract he signed with Pittsburgh last spring. In 2021, Spillane played in 14 games and made four starts. According to Pro Football Reference, he recorded 56 total tackles (29 solo), including two tackles for loss. He is known as a run-stopper, but also as a huge liability in pass coverage, this as compared to Schobert, who has excelled in pass coverage through most of his six-year career.
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