We are at Week 10 now, and heading into Week 11 of the 2018 season. The Steelers are looking really good so far, and their defense, while still having some issues, has improved dramatically. However, there are still some improvements to be made in depth along the defensive side of the ball, and even some on offense. As long as Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t retire, the Steelers will be completely fine to compete for another Super Bowl in 2019. Here is an early outlook on some of the best decisions the Steelers could make in the off-season, even though there’s a lot more football to be played yet in 2018.
Of all the parts I’m outlining, this was the toughest. There are a lot of “bubble” decisions this off-season to say the least, but with more cap space than ever, the Steelers will have the freedom to actually use their newfound cap space to lock down their key guys. So, here’s the list of free agents and my associated decisions:
RB Le’Veon Bell
Do I really have to do this one? The transition tag isn’t worth it, as the team would lose their 3rd-round compensatory pick if they don’t match his offer, and if the Steelers do match, they’re stuck with a RB who they really don’t want. I mean, honestly, the Steelers should trade him. He’s become too much of a headache at this point, and it’s time to cut your ties. Take the 3rd-rounder and let the guy walk.
OG Ramon Foster
Big Ragu has been really good, and I know B.J. Finney is waiting in the wings, but Foster looks the best he has during his entire career right now. With how well he’s playing, as long as the team doesn’t have to shell out a tremendous amount of money, I want to bring Foster back. Re-sign for no more than two years.
DE Tyson Alualu
Alualu is really great depth and if Pittsburgh can bring him back I’m down for it. You could draft one, I suppose, and if that’s what you plan to do, go for it, but Alualu has done great in his time filling in for injured defensive linemen.
ILB Ryan Shazier
I don’t know if he can even play. I think he wants to, but I’m not even sure what’s going on in his head. Thus, this is indeterminate, but my gut says to bring him back as a coach.
P Jordan Berry
Well, he’s definitely inconsistent. I mean, I suppose re-sign him for another year, but please bring in competition. This is a definite need for 2019. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t bring him back, though.
OLB Anthony Chickillo
Chick isn’t the greatest player and, with a likely draft pick, possible free agent, another year on Keion Adams, and Ola Adeniyi coming back, he looks more expendable. But if he wants to come back on a cheap deal, bring him in as a possible depth piece.
CB Coty Sensabaugh
He has played well enough to warrant another year with the Steelers. He shouldn’t start next year, but he’s a very good depth piece as he’s proven.
WR Derrius Heyward-Bey
Very nice veteran leadership, but I would not bring him back. His special teams have even suffered with penalties being called on him. I wouldn’t bring him back as a player, but as a coach, you couldn’t get me on that train faster.
DT Daniel McCullers
Big Dan has finally put it all together and has shown the ability to dominate offensive linemen. This is a huge yes to bringing back Shade Tree.
WR Justin Hunter
A mediocre WR who seemingly can’t do anything when he’s on the field. Let him walk — the Steelers have better options in free agency and in the draft.
S Nat Berhe
Coming off of a torn pectoral and being nothing more than a special-teams guy, I don’t think he’s coming back, and I wouldn’t bring him back.
RB Stevan Ridley
While the Steelers should add a RB through the draft, Ridley is a veteran back who can fill in still. Yes, I would bring him back.
ILB L.J. Fort
YES! Not only would I bring Fort back, but I would give him a two-year extension. He’s now a cheap option at ILB and a huge part of the sub-packages on Keith Butler’s defense. This is an easy decision.
TE Xavier Grimble
Great third TE that can catch the ball and blocks well too. This is an easy decision, bring back X-man.
LS Kameron Canaday
Haven’t heard Canaday’s name at all, so he’s right in line for another easy extension.
OL B.J. Finney
The best depth piece on this OL, Finney could start next year if Ramon Foster walks, but regardless, this is an easy decision, bring the man back.
OL Matt Feiler
Feiler has been absolutely fantastic in relief of Marcus Gilbert, and it’s possible the Steelers release Gilbert. But with his contract up after 2019, it’s better to lock Feiler down for 2+ years and make him the starter in 2020.
WR Eli Rogers
Ryan Switzer has seemingly replaced Rogers, but the team should see what happens if Rogers comes back at any point this season. For now, this is a pass for the Steelers.
TE Jesse James
The Outlaw has been the definition of solid. He deserves a decent payday that won’t break the bank, but one that will keep him in Pittsburgh for the long-term. Keep that man in black-and-gold.
IDL L.T. Walton
Walton has been displaced by the resurgent Daniel McCullers, but Walton is always solid and was solid when he played on Thursday against the Panthers. Keep him here in Pittsburgh.
T Zach Banner
We admittedly don’t know too much about Banner, but he looked decent in the preseason, so let’s bring him back to be part of the competition next year.
CB Mike Hilton
Multi-year extension on the way for Hilton, he will be sent an ERFA tender which he will likely sign, and then the Steelers can work out a deal with him. Hilton should be priority No. 1 this off-season, he’s earned the payday.
S Jordan Dangerfield
He has been a good depth safety and has been brought back as a competitor at the S spot. Might as well do it again, especially since he’s been stellar in his special-teams outings.
Davis has been the stabilizer at the back of the Steelers’ defense that they’ve needed since Troy Polamalu left the team. Davis has been a fantastic tackler and has shut down his side of the field when in coverage. He has earned himself a contract, and I don’t want to risk him hitting the market next year.
Want to create a bit more cap space? Let’s give Big Ben an extension beyond 2019. That’ll ensure he gets to play out to when he is comfortable, and give the Steelers more cap space to move around with. I think the Steelers want this, and he does too.
Yes, he’s aging and he’ll be 30 the next time his contract rolls around, but one thing I can say is that Haden is still playing at an extremely high level. I wouldn’t mind adding a year or two to the end of his current extension.
I’m not going to say release him, but I’d decline his fifth-year option. Burns has proven to be nothing but dead weight this season.
Yeah, I don’t expect the Steelers to be too active in the free-agency market, but I do have two moves I really want them to make no matter what, so here they are:
Sign RB T.J. Yeldon
They could just as easily address RB through the draft, but Yeldon will not be expensive and he fits the mold of Steelers RBs. He is a guy who runs through you, but still has that burst to him. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and rushes fairly well. So, if you want to give James Conner some time off, I would highly recommend using Yeldon and Jaylen Samuels next season. That would be huge for this offense.
Sign CB E.J. Gaines
You want to make sure you don’t have to double dip at CB in the draft? Gaines is not only a fantastic depth CB, but also a guy who can start on the outside if needed. This is a reasonable signing for the Steelers, as he won’t break the bank, but he will give the Steelers everything they want to help their rookie CB.
Note, I could have asked for Demarcus Lawrence or a crazy defensive signing, but that is just not the Steelers, so I doubt that will ever, so I tried to make this slightly realistic.
Well, here it is, an extremely streamlined 7-round mock draft. These explanations will be extremely short and I will have the Steelers picking 29th, which is what the draft order would be if the season ended today.
Round 1: DeAndre Baker, CB, Georgia
A physical, man-coverage corner who not only has length but is athletic. He comes with ball skills and an incredible leadership ability. The Steelers get lucky this year with a fantastic CB class and Baker is a good one.
Round 2: Bobby Okereke, ILB, Stanford
An athletic linebacker that can go sideline-to-sideline and is a polished processor. He has shown the ability to be fantastic in coverage and is just what the Steelers need to round off this ILB core.
Round 3: Jaylon Ferguson, EDGE, Louisiana Tech
A polished pass rusher with some moves, but leverage issues. His athleticism and polished ability leave a low ceiling, but he is instantly a very good depth piece and potential future starter.
Round 4: Emanuel Hall, WR, Missouri
This would be a steal, as Hall is a precise route runner and great jump ball guy. He will be a deep threat guy and fills a void on the Steelers offense. He and Washington would complement each other well.
Round 6: Darrin Hall, RB, Pittsburgh
Hall is a great change of pace back that can pass-pro and catch out of the backfield. He is a big play threat with burst, and immediately would make a big impact for such a late-round pick.
Round 6: Hiljalte Froholdt, IOL, Arkansas
The Steelers need to restock the cupboard of their IOL, and Froholdt, who is a fantastic athlete with length, is the type of OL the Steelers love to turn into gold under Munchak. If he pans out, Froholdt would be a future all-pro, but many teams would never be able to turn him into that, Munchak, however, would.
Round 7: Donald Parham, TE, Stetson
This would be the ultimate sleeper pick, but he is an athletic, big-bodied TE that would be a fantastic guy to have in the passing game. He has grown as a blocker and might go in the mid-rounds, but from what I’m hearing right now, there isn’t too much hype around Parham. Should the Steelers get him, goodness help defenses.