NFL Free Agency 2022 – Pittsburgh Steelers Team Needs
In this series, we’re going to hit on each team and give you a quick rundown of how they look in free agency, the moves available to them, and what you can expect from the squad. NFL free agency begins during the legal tampering period on Monday, March 14, 2022, then players can officially sign on March 16. All salary figures in the article are courtesy of OverTheCap.com.
With this article, we will explore all possible options – some of which will obviously be more realistic than others.
Projected ceiling space: $28,731,582
Clearly, there is one story that has dominated the Steelers universe this offseason; the retirement of their longtime quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And rightly so, the quarterback is by far the most important position on the team. That said, the Steelers have a good chunk of headroom and they still have all of their early-round picks so if they can be sure who the caller will be, maybe they could go right back to the playoffs this season. Let’s take a look at some of the moves they’re making this offseason to get there.
Cap Maneuvering Options
The most common way to generate money via restructuring is to convert the base salary into a signing bonus which can then be spread over the remaining years of the contract. You can also optionally incorporate an extension to spread that money further. How favorable it is for both the team and the player depends on the long-term prospects for the player. In certain circumstances, you may even have the power to ask a player to take less money.
T. J. Watt – It’s the single most obvious source of headroom if the Steelers need it. The risk with these basic conversion restructurings is that you’re essentially taking money from this year and guaranteeing it in future years. Considering TJ Watt was Defensive Player of the Year this year, releasing the cap in the short term while making Watt more comfortable in the long term seems like a mutually beneficial decision. They could free up over $17 million for 2022 with a simple restructuring.
Stephon Tuitt – Tuitt actually did that exact restructuring last season, freeing up $6.34 million in 2021 while adding three voidable years to the end of his contract. They could actually do a similar base salary conversion this year to free up an additional $6 million, although that will of course spread out even more money in future years.
Cameron Heyward – Another player the Steelers restructured last year to make about $7 million, except Heyward, will be 33 to start the season. They could do it again for another $6.5 million, but it’s getting a little dangerous at his age to keep kicking the road.
Minka Fitzpatrick – Fitzpatrick is in the last year of his contract so you can’t restructure him but you can give him an extension. By doing so, you can add years and convert the base salary into a signing bonus, which would ease its cap for 2022. His cap is just over $10 million and they could free up $7.6 million for 2022 with an extension if they wanted.
Benny Snell Junior- Snell is a pretty capable fullback, but the Steelers obviously have now Najee Harris at the top and capable back behind him in Trey Edmunds and Anthony McFarland. If a team would give anything for Snell, you can save nearly a million dollars in cap with just $175,000 in dead cap. Otherwise, he is a potential cut candidate.
Devin Bush – Bush really hasn’t been successful for the Steelers so far, but cutting him doesn’t save you a penny (although they might just cut him for the roster spot at this point). Since you can erase part of his dead cap if someone is willing to take it, they should hang him there for a token 7th round pick just to see if anyone would be willing to bite.
Joe Schobert – It’s most obvious there as Schobert hasn’t quite played to the caliber they had hoped for after acquiring him via trade and his contract makes him quite disposable. With a designated reduction after June 1, they can save $9,250,000 with only $472,000 dead cap. The writing could be on the wall with this one.
Zack Banner – Pittsburgh obviously has to work on the offensive line, which means you either have to move the current members of the line into a backup role or leave them altogether. Banner is one of the few guys on the roster who can be released fairly cleanly because you can cut him with $1.625 million in dead cap and still save $5 million.
Significant Free Agents
Ju Ju Smith Schuster – The Steelers have easily been one of the best teams to recruit wide receivers over the past two decades, so this isn’t the first time they’ve had this problem. In the past they went from guys like Emmanuel Sander and Mike Wallace because they had players like Antonio Brown. In this case, the Steelers hit not only Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypoolbut also tight end Pat Freiermuth who are all on rookie deals, so it makes sense to let JuJu go for the high price he’s likely to command.
Joe Haden – They have a lot of free agents but also enough money to bring some guys back here. Decide whether to bring back or not Joe Haden really depends on whether you really think the quarterback’s situation is good enough to compete again in 2022. He’ll be 33 when the season starts, so he’s not a guy you’re throwing a lot of money at long-term.
Trai Turner – Of course, one of the only bright spots along the offensive line would also be who is an unrestricted free agent. He was a perennial Pro Bowler with the Carolina Panthers, then after a down year with the Chargers, rebounded this year to provide veteran leadership to the Steelers line. He should be one of the priorities to bring back if possible.
Eric Ebron – Ebron was a decent acquisition and clearly a player they liked to have as he traveled on road games with the team even though he was injured (which a lot of players don’t). But the acquisition of Pat Freiermuth probably makes him expendable, so I expect the Steelers to let him go and build depth behind Freiermuth, rather than alongside him.
Akhello Witherspoon – The big question here is whether they think Witherspoon is ready to take that step forward from the nickel or dime corner to the full-time choke opposite Cameron Sutton. If he’s ready then he should be the priority to sign someone like Joe Haden because he is still only 26 years old. If it’s seen more as a third or fourth corner, they’ll want to lock that second corner first every snap and then worry about bringing it back.
Chukwuma Okorafor – Again, everyone knows the Steelers offensive line wasn’t good enough. I think you can get away with keeping one of Banner and Okorafor on the roster, but you ideally bring some offensive tackle competition that might even move Dan Moore from right tackle to left tackle. There’s a chance that Okorafor realizes he would be the “swing” tackle and because of that, he might want to test out free agency to find a starting role somewhere.
Honorable Mention Free Agents: Terrell Edmunds, James Washington, Miles Killebrew, Ray-Ray McCloud, Arthur Maulet, Charlton Tacos, Kalen Ballage, BJ Finney
Free agency/draft need positions
Quarterback – They have Mason Rudolf under contract and they will almost certainly bid Dwayne Haskins as a free agent, what could be your quarterback competition for 2022. But, given all the pieces in place, any possible play for a trade or a draft pick they trust should be a priority. Neither Haskins nor Rudolph feel like the long term answer and a swap for someone like Jimmy Garoppolo could send the Steelers back to suitors AFC North overnight.
Offensive line – We’ve obviously mentioned it a few times now, but the line needs to improve. You have a young running back who has been able to produce behind the mediocre line up, so improvement on that front needs to be a top priority. The good news from new offensive line coach Pat Meyer is that the options are flexible, as we detailed above, which always comes in handy in the draft. The Jets and Bengals were in a similar place last year, which allowed them to take guys like Alijah Vera Tucker and Jackson Carman; players who have been shown to be potentially able to play guard or tackle. At pick 20, Trevor Green is a guy who fits that exact description because he could play just about any position down the line or at pick 52 they could go with someone like guard Zion Johnson or attack Darian Kinnard. In free agency, top dogs love Terron Armstead it might be a bit too expensive but you never know. A high-risk, high-reward player who fits this “flexible” bill would be Riley Reiffwho said he was ready to play tackle or guard but has also struggled with injuries in recent years.
Secondary – It’s gonna come down to what they do with their own free agents, but corner Joe Hayden, Ahkello Witherspoonand Arthur Maulet are all free agents as well as safeties Terrell Edmunds and Miles Killebrew. The pass defense unit was in the middle of the pack in both pass defense (13th) and turnovers (16th) in 2021. This offseason will be a good opportunity to reorganize the squad and, as we have talked above with guys like Joe Hadenwhich direction they go will likely depend on their QB status and whether they truly believe they can compete for a Super Bowl in 2021.
Looking for what other teams need? You can find the Team Hub HERE.