PITTSBURGH -- Robert Spillane won't admit it, but he's "the guy" for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Spillane returns to Pittsburgh set to make the veteran minimum as an exclusive right tendered free agent. In layman's terms, the Steelers will pay Spillane $850,000 in 2021.
About a week later, the Steelers made the investment stronger. After eight years in Pittsburgh, the Steelers released inside linebacker Vince Williams and handed the keys to Spillane.
"Vince is one of the people that I've very strongly looked up to since day one in Pittsburgh," Spillane said. "He's a guy that goes about his business the right way. He plays football the right way. The energy that he brings to a defense is infections, and his ability to really rally guys together, get guys going on the same page is a high-end trait of his.
"We're going to miss Vince, and all that means is it's time for myself and Devin to step up and be leaders of the position group."
The Steelers need Spillane to fill the role this season. In a year that took a toll on Pittsburgh's defensive depth, younger guys - like 25-year-old Spillane - are going to be make-or-break pieces to the team's success.
"We're going to be missing guys like Bud Dupree, Vince, guys who have done amazing things on the defense for years," Spillane said, "and now it's time for guys like me to step up - Alex Highsmith, Cam Sutton. Guys that are expected to make plays next year."
All three will step into starting roles for the first full season of their career. Highsmith comes in as a second-year pass rusher, Sutton signed a $9 million contract, and Spillane is back to be the next undrafted defensive star in Pittsburgh.
And he'll play right next to a top-10 draft pick... for the first time in their careers.
"We haven't played many in-game snaps together, but we've been working together for the past two years," Spillane said, discussing his lack of experience with other inside linebacker Devin Bush. "I know and understand his style of communication and his play. I think we feed in well with each other. We work well together. We've been able to do that off the field, so now it's just going to translate to taking our communication styles and meshing them together to get the best message to the teammates."
Even if Spillane is planning to rally the team and take in some of that Vince Williams leadership, he's not admitting he'll be the starter come Week 1.
"I don't pencil myself in anywhere because nothing's guaranteed," Spillane said. "Nothing's given to you. I know I'm going to have to go in OTAs, spring camp, and earn everything that I have. I don't expect anything to be given to me, and I don't want anything to be given to me. I expect to go out there and earn it. Go through the offseason program and show that I can be a better player than I was last year.
"I look forward to getting back with the group of guys and showing the improvements I've made this offseason and going from there."
From who we've come to know the inside linebacker as, this is classic Spillane. A humbled, hard-working player who simply wants to be a great linebacker. It shows. It showed when he signed an $850,000 contract without hesitation.
"I didn't know my contract situation until after the season," Spillane said. "They told me you're an exclusive rights free agent, so as long as Pittsburgh wants to keep you, they can keep you on the minimum."
With nothing on his mind but improving, Spillane walked in and walked out a Pittsburgh Steeler. And whether he'll say it or not, he became "the guy" for the black and gold.
"They told me they were going [tender me]. It was five seconds, in and out, and I started preparing for next season."