Before we know it, March 17 will be here and the start of the 2021 NFL league year will be underway. For two days leading up to this, players who are set to become free agents will have the opportunity to work out new contracts to be made official once the league year starts. Until that time, players are still able to work out deals with their current teams.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have 19 players set to become unrestricted free agents in March. Obviously they cannot keep them all, but do they have to let all of them slip through their fingers? I decided to make a list of six players, roughly one-third of those possible, who I believe will be with Steelers again in 2021. Of course, this is my list and it’s simply a shot in the dark. I welcome you to determine your own list and will see how they work out when it is all said and done.
First of all, let’s remind ourselves of the 19 players who will be free agents on March 17 if they don’t sign with the Steelers before then:
The following list of six players is not as much who I want to be with the Steelers next season, but who I think will be signed. Here we go...
Although he is set to turn 34 this offseason, Tyson Alualu is coming off arguably the best season of his career. In 2020, Alualu and made Steelers’ fans forget about the loss of Javon Hargrave as Alualu finished ranked in the top 10 of all interior defensive linemen according to Pro Football Focus. With a career high five passes defensed, Alualu added two sacks, five quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, and helped to create chaos in the middle of the Steelers defense. Bringing him back for an inexpensive two-year deal in order to sure up the defensive line would not be surprising at all.
Last season Zach Banner bet on himself with a one-year deal and emerged from a strange 2020 training camp as the Steelers starting right tackle. Unfortunately, Banner only lasted one start before being injured at the very end of Week 1 and was lost for the season with ACL surgery. Look for the Steelers to do a similar deal with Banner this year yet again and give him a chance to do in 2021 what his injury cut short in 2020.
While the Steelers could look at upgrading the punter position again like they attempted to do at the beginning of the 2020 season, Jordan Berry should be a very inexpensive option to retain. With no teams calling when the Steelers released the Aussie punter prior to Week 1, his return to the Steelers saw a much improved product on the field. I predict Berry will be in training camp for a very inexpensive, hopefully league minimum, deal will have a chance to earn the job again for 2021.
It’s not a sexy name to retain for next season, but the Steelers special teams’ captain brings depth to the secondary and special teams experience at what should be a very low rate. If you haven’t noticed the theme already, the majority of these players are ones who will not cost much above the league minimum salary which is what Dangerfield should be for the Steelers next season.
This move may not occur right away, but if no teams lineup to give Josh Dobbs anything more than a minimum salary, I think he comes back to Pittsburgh based on familiarity. I’m sure the Steelers would like to have more than three quarterbacks they currently have under contract, but I also don’t blame Dobbs if he wants to test the market to see if anyone is willing to pay more than bottom dollar for his services. Should the Steelers draft a quarterback in the 2021 NFL draft, this election goes right out the window. Regardless, Dobbs would have to fight to find his way back to the 53-man roster.
I had to give you something. While I think the Steelers would continue to sign bottom-end free agents to retain for 2021, they have got to make a move with somebody. I think Mike Hilton might be the best move financially and schematically. Hilton is a much different slot corner than what teams use in the NFL, so unless he goes to another perfect situation where they use him properly like they do in Pittsburgh, he has the potential to be a free agent bust. I think the Steelers see Hilton’s value and will offer him a reasonable deal. Hopefully Hilton takes it, because if he decides to test the market there’s a good chance the Steelers give the same offer to Cam Sutton (think Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown). There’s a possibility Hilton would find that his services aren’t what many teams are willing to pay for on the open market only to find that Pittsburgh offered his contract to their other possible slot corner. I’m hoping that when it is all said and done, Hilton can stay and continue in his hybrid slot corner/linebacker role as part of an elite Pittsburgh defense.
So there are six players I think the Steelers will retain for next season. They are not all the sexiest choices, but sometimes a team needs to keep those that they can for a decent price. There were some others who are also considered, but I just don’t see the Steelers being able to keep too many players.
So what do you think? Will I get any of these players correct? Was six a good number to go with? Feel free to leave your thoughts, and your list of six, in the comments below.