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Impending 2020 free agents should impact Steelers draft plans in 2019

With the Steelers likely to lose some key starters to free agency in 2020, it would not be a surprise to see them address those positions in the draft this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

With the acquisition of notable free agents in key areas of need this offseason, it could be argued that the Pittsburgh Steelers can be somewhat flexible with their draft strategy this year. Steven Nelson should be expected to start opposite Joe Haden, Mark Barron will be paired with Vince Williams and Donte Moncrief will more than likely beat out James Washington to be the opening day starter.

But while the Steelers might not have any glaring holes to fill ahead of the regular season this year, they might yet have some issues in 2020. And for a team that is cognizant about the importance of planning for the future, their perceived needs for next season could have a significant impact on draft plans in 2019.

General manager Kevin Colbert has frequently discussed the team’s philosophy of keeping one eye on the future when making draft decisions, and he will most likely deliver a similar message in the coming weeks, just as he has done in previous years. This coming from his pre-draft press conference last year.

“We’re all guilty of focusing on one year. 2018 is what we’re focused on, but we’re never going to lose sight of 2019 and beyond because when you do that, you will end up in a rut that you may not get out of . . . We want to be able to compete for championships every year. 2018’s most important, but we will never lose focus on 19 and beyond while trying to be champions next year.”

If Pittsburgh is to avoid ending up in that rut that Colbert talks about, the Steelers will almost certainly need to address some potential issues they could be facing after this season. They may only have 11 unrestricted free agent in 2020, but several of them are starters or playing in key roles.

While the Steelers are in no real danger of losing Ben Roethlisberger, the sizable new contract he is expected to sign will take a significant chunk out of the $48 million in salary cap space the team is projected to have in 2020. Keeping Artie Burns may not be high on the list of priorities, but there will be challenging financial decisions to make about Joe Haden, Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave and B.J. Finney, with not enough money to pay for them all without making sacrifices elsewhere.

It is also worth noting that the two-year deals signed by Anthony Chickillo, Mark Barron and Donte Moncrief have all been structured in such a way as to suggest they all could be let go next year, effectively making them all potential free agents as well.

Should the worst come to pass, the Steelers could possibly be faced with replacing three inside linebackers, two cornerbacks, two outside linebackers, a safety, a wide receiver and a defensive lineman next year. A highly unlikely scenario to be sure, but one Pittsburgh will have to plan for in part.

Selecting at least one cornerback, an edge rusher and an inside linebacker in the 2019 draft should be almost guaranteed, with there being a good chance that the Steelers will double dip at one of the positions. As much as the idea of drafting a player like Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson might seem attractive if he was available, future needs suggest any philosophy of taking the best player available could be forced to take a backseat this year.