Steelers Sign Tackling Machine to Solve Inside Linebacker Woes: Report

Mike Tomlin

Getty Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers signed an inside linebacker in NFL free agency.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have filled their last obvious gapping roster hole in NFL free agency.

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on March 15 that the Steelers have signed inside linebacker Cole Holcomb to a three-year contract. The financial details have yet to be disclosed.

“Holcomb, 26, has started 48 games for Washington,” Pelissero wrote on Twitter. “A big addition to Pittsburgh’s defense.”

Holcomb wasn’t expected to make much of an NFL impact, as he was a fifth-round choice for the then Washington Redskins in the 2019 NFL draft. But he started 15 games and made 105 combined tackles, including 6 for loss as a rookie.

He’s continued to be a tackling machine the past three years. The 2021 season was his best statistical campaign when he posted 142 combined tackles in 16 games.

Steelers Sign ILB Cole Holcomb

After addressing cornerback, safety, defensive line and offensive line with signings and re-signings on the first two days of NFL free agency, inside linebacker was the last position group that needed solidified for Pittsburgh. The Steelers do that with the addition of Holcomb.

The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly wrote on Twitter that the three-year deal for Holcomb “can’t be overlooked.” The length of the contract is an indication that the Steelers believe the 26-year-old linebacker will not only help them in 2023 but for years down the road.

Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora called Holcomb “a better athlete” than other players the Steelers have tried using to replace inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who suffered a career-ending back injury in 2017.

Holcomb doesn’t fill the stat sheet with a lot of impactful players (sacks, tackles for loss, interceptions). But he’s been a solid, reliable player in Washington’s defense.

In four NFL seasons, he’s posted 388 combined tackles in 50 games, averaging nearly 7.8 tackles per game. Holcomb had 142 combined tackles in 2021; the last time a Steelers defender even had 130 combined tackles during a season was Lawrence Timmons in 2014.

Holcomb also has recorded 15 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, 10 pass defenses, 5 forced fumbles and 9 quarterback hits during his career. He registered a career-high 7 pass defenses to go with his 142 combined tackles in 2021.

In 2022, Holcomb played just seven games because of a foot injury. Perissero reported he had surgery to repair the injury on December 5.

Steelers Lose Robert Spillane in Free Agency

The Steelers signing Holcomb comes a day after the team lost inside linebacker Robert Spillane in free agency.

AtoZ Sports’ Doug Kyed reported that Spillane signed a two-year deal worth a maximum of $9 million with $4 million guaranteed to join the Las Vegas Raiders.

The Steelers are also expected to let linebacker Devin Bush depart in free agency. A former No. 10 overall pick, Bush became one of the biggest draft disappointments in recent Steelers history. He and the team are expected to seek fresh starts in 2023.

Holcomb figures to be able to provide that for the Steelers.

But general manager Omar Khan may not be done addressing inside linebacker this offseason.

With an $11.25 million cap hit, veteran Myles Jack is a cut candidate for the Steelers this spring. Pittsburgh could cut Jack and save $8 million against the cap.

To fit all the players the Steelers have signed early in free agency, the team may be forced to cut Jack. That would require the Steelers making another addition at inside linebacker.

Holcomb, though, is a terrific start to the team addressing the center of its defense this offseason.

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