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The Steelers 2020 UFAs, scheme and depth will have an impact on the upcoming draft

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While everyone focuses on immediate needs in the upcoming draft, the unrestricted free agents, and scheme, will dictate a lot for the upcoming selection process.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I have come out with my objections to drafting an inside linebacker and wide receiver early in the draft, but I did not delve into areas of weakness. I see the Pittsburgh Steelers as having all offensive, defensive and special team’s positions filled for 2019. Sure there may be a couple of camp battles for starting positions, but those battles should come from current players, not from a rookie.

If all starting positions are locked in for 2019, what does the team need for starters in 2020? What does the team need for sub packages?

Let’s take a look at the unrestricted free agents in 2020.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: Should sign an extension.

Safety Sean Davis: Davis came into his own in 2018 and played well, not an elite player but not the liability he had been in past seasons. Pittsburgh should make an effort to resign the former second rounder.

Cornerback Joe Haden is entering the last year of his $3 million deal and may see an extension in the offseason. Let me clear the air here about my thoughts regarding Haden. I do not hate Haden. He is an average to above average NFL cornerback who has issues staying healthy. Just because our other cornerbacks are bad does not mean Haden is elite. I dislike that the Steelers pay him top ten cornerback money for such play and availability. If Pittsburgh signs him to an extension in the $6-8 million annual average salary, I would be fine with that.

Nose tackle Javon Hargrave has blown away all expectations after being drafted in the third round. His 2018 season was stellar with 6.5 sacks and 37 tackles while playing 43.6 percent of snaps. He needs to be extended and should be. Will he want to go somewhere that he sees more playing time?

There are four issues which hurt outside linebacker Bud Dupree’s stock in Steelers fans’ eyes. Fans look at TJ Watt’s stats and criticize Dupree for not putting up more sacks. Dupree detractors gloss over his solid run-stopping prowess. Fans love the flashy sack numbers even when they account for under one percent of most NFL players total snaps. Last, his $9.2 million salary. If Dupree was making $5 million or had 8-10 sacks, would fans be fine with him? Would I be shocked with no extension? No. Would I be crying in my beer if they signed him to an extension for $6-8 million per year? No.

Getting into needs based upon scheme is more difficult to gauge for 2019 due in part to safety Morgan Burnett.

1: Burnett accounted for 37% of the defensive snap totals.

2: Burnett struggled with his role with the Steelers.

3: The former Green Bay Packer was available for only 11 games.

The following totals are defensive alignment percentages from 2018 to 2017 totals in parentheses provided by Steelers Depot.

3-4: 30% (38.3%)

Nickel: 29.4% (36%)

Dime: 37.2% (24%)

Would a healthy and effective Burnett have changed those totals?

Did other injuries or ineffectiveness from other players impact the totals?

Are the 2018 percentages an anomaly or are these the numbers that defensive coordinator Keith Butler plans on hitting in 2019?

The tight end position seems to be solidified for years to come with Vance McDonald signed through 2021. His 564 snpas in 2018 were the most in his six year career. The trend of McDonald inability to remain healthy for an entire season continued in 2018. For his career he has averaged playing in just over 12 games per season due to a variety of injuries. Couple that with the loss of tight end Jesse James and his 2,321 snaps over the past three seasons, and you have the potential for a giant hole on Sundays. Current Steelers backup tight end Xavier Grimble has 22 career receptions in four NFL seasons. His most noteworthy catch led to a costly fumble in the 2018 loss to the Denver Broncos. Did he learn to secure the ball in the hand opposite the defender or with both hands? Personally, I do not want to find out in 2019.

I believe that Pittsburgh has their 22 starters on offense and defense on the roster for 2019. Lack of depth, scheme, and 2020 unrestricted free agents will have an impact in the upcoming draft. As fans, we can speculate until we turn blue on how general manager Kevin Colbert should conduct the draft. Until the Steelers first draft card is read by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, fans will be left with their wish list in their hands waiting and speculating.