With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season now over, it is time to start looking at what the team will do with some of their own free agents heading into the 2021 season. In a perfect world the team would have enough money to pay those they want to keep, and let the others walk in hopes of receiving a compensatory draft pick.
But not all free agents are created equal. There are many different types of free agents.
Check out the distinction between an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), Restricted Free Agent (RFA) and an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA). This per the league’s website:
Unrestricted free agent (UFA): Any player with four or more accrued seasons and an expired contract; free to negotiate and sign with any team.
Restricted free agent (RFA): A player with three accrued seasons and an expired contract. RFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any team, but their original team can offer them one of various qualifying offers (“tenders”) that come with the right of first refusal and/or draft-pick compensation. If the tender is withdrawn by a team, the RFA becomes an unrestricted free agent. In 2020, teams must submit these tenders before 4 p.m. ET on March 18. These amounts change annually; the following numbers are for the 2020 season. Players can choose either (a) or (b) regardless of which is greater in the applicable tenders below.
The RFA tenders are classified as follows:
First-round tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $4.641 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. If the player’s original team decides not to match an offer sheet signed with another team, it is entitled to a first-round draft pick from the player’s new team. Unless received two days or later prior to the NFL draft, draft compensation for each tender is due in the same league year as the offer sheet is signed.
A signed offer sheet with a new team includes Principal Terms that must be matched by the prior club. However, if the new team includes terms that waive or limit its ability to designate the RFA a franchise player, the old team will not have to match this term if it has tendered the player with an offer worth $500,000 more than the first-round tender ($5.141 million in 2020).
Second-round tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $3.259 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. Draft-choice compensation: second-round pick.
Original-round tender: One-year contract worth the greater of (a) $2.133 million or (b) 110 percent of the player’s prior-year base salary. Draft-choice compensation: a pick in the round the player was originally drafted in.
Right-of-first-refusal tender: One-year contract worth $2.133 million. Team has the right to match any offer sheet signed with another team, but there is no draft compensation tied to this tender.
Upgraded tender: If a team places a first-round tender on a player who was selected outside of the first round, it can only receive a second-round pick as compensation for any of its other RFAs who were first-round draft picks. The same is true for the second-round tender — if a team uses it on a player drafted in the third round or lower, it can only receive a third-round pick for any other second-round RFA it intends to tender. As an example, the Saints are reportedly using a first-round RFA tender on QB/RB/WR/TE Taysom Hill this offseason. Had New Orleans had any RFAs who were former first-round picks, it could only receive a second-round selection in return for a declined offer sheet.
RFA tender salary increases: If there is an increase in the salary cap in the 2021 or 2022 league years, each of the tenders will increase by the percentage of the salary cap from one season to the next. In addition to this, each of the tenders will increase by an additional amount during the 2021 and 2022 league years as follows: Right-of-first-refusal tender ($0), original-round tender ($50,000), second-round tender ($125,000) and first-round tender ($125,000). Beginning in 2023, each of these tenders will only increase with the percentage of the salary cap (if any) from league year to league year.
Exclusive rights free agent (ERFA): Any player with fewer than three accrued seasons and an expired contract. If his original team offers him a one-year contract at the league minimum (based on his credited seasons), the player cannot negotiate with other teams.
Below is a complete list of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 free agents, and the type of free agent they are, heading into the offseason. Some big names, and even bigger decisions, await the black and gold in the coming weeks and months.
Bud Dupree — EDGE — UFA
Alejandro Villanueva — LT — UFA
Avery Williamson — LB — UFA
Mike Hilton — CB — UFA
Matt Feiler — RT — UFA
Tyson Alualu — IDL — UFA
Zach Banner — RT — UFA
JuJu Smith-Schuster — WR — UFA
Jayrone Elliott — EDGE — UFA
Cassius Marsh — EDGE — UFA
Jordan Berry — P — UFA
Chris Wormley — IDL — UFA
Danny Isidora — RG — UFA
Trey Edmunds — RB — RFA (released from the team)
Sean Davis — S — UFA
Jordan Dangerfield — S — UFA
Cameron Sutton — CB — UFA
James Conner — RB — UFA
Jerald Hawkins — RT — UFA
Ray-Ray McCloud — WR — RFA
Joshua Dobbs — QB — UFA
Marcus Allen — S — ERFA
Olasunkanmi Adeniyi — EDGE — RFA
J.C. Hassenauer — C ERFA
Robert Spillane — LB — ERFA
So, who will the Steelers keep, and who will they let walk? Either way, let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.