The Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a sticky situation. Shortly they will be faced with replacing their future hall of fame quarterback, while also staring down the barrel of a decreased salary cap. What originally would have been a one-player rebuild might just turn into a full-on tear down. If they are lucky enough, the NFL will come to agreeance with both the players union and its TV partners on a 17th game and a mega billion dollar licensing deal that will keep the salary cap rising. However, if the worst case scenario comes to fruition the Steelers will have to tighten its hypothetical belt and prepare for some rather thin years.
The smartest and fastest way for the team to regain its contender status is by nailing their draft picks. While that is probably an obvious statement, the Steelers have a very clear way of increasing its chances to hit on those selections simply by having more draft choices. But I'm not talking about trading away resources like players or their own picks, I’m talking about gaining picks by losing free agents, and not signing outside players to replace them thus pandering to the compensatory selection formula.
While the exact formula wasn't exactly known outside of NFL headquarters until the most recent CBA, the gist of it is fairly simple simple. The league “grants teams extra selections in the following year’s draft if they lose more value in free agency (whether in quantity or quality of players) than they bring in. 32 of them are awarded each year, and teams can receive no more than four. The value of the picks – which occur after the third through seventh rounds – are roughly based on the annual salary of the new contract signed by the departing free agent.” -Sports Illustrated.
The Steelers find themselves with a number of big-ticket players on the way out. Those players being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Alejandro Villanueva, and even James Conner, Cameron Sutton, and Avery Williamson could command deals that would sway the formula. The Steelers are in a legitimate position to receive multiple third and fourth round selections in 2022. The way they can guarantee such a massive draft haul is by resisting the temptation to bring in too many outside free agents until the compensatory window has closed.
The Steelers would be wise to look at the “street” free agent list that doesn't affect the formula whatsoever. Those are players that weren't under contract before March 17, most notably meaning players that were released. The list of street free agents currently include J.J. Watt, Patrick Peterson, A.J. Bouye, and Nick Eason, however that list is going to rapidly grow once the NFL sets its 2021 salary cap total. These players have to have priority over regular free agents.
To top things off, if Ben Roethlisberger hangs up his cleats within the next twelve months, the Steelers may want to go quarterback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Then, the Steelers will likely need to put a serious package of picks together to move up in the draft to get one. The Steelers are still too good to finish within the bottom ten teams, and for a quarterback these days you probably want to get within the top eight as to not reach for one.
But what do you think? Should the Steelers avoid outside free agents to gain extra 2022 draft compensation? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.