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Analyzing the Steelers defensive depth without their free agents

The Pittsburgh Steelers have several free agents on the defensive side of the ball. What would the defense look like if they lost them all?

Philadelphia Eagles v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not in a good place heading into the 2021 offseason. They are bellied up to the salary cap, and their list of free agents is long. When it comes to best, and worst, case scenarios, you have to wonder what the team would look like if they happen to lose more free agents than they keep.

In fact, I wanted to take a look at the defensive depth if the Steelers were to lose all of their free agents on that side of the ball.

Let’s take a look at the free agents first:

Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

OLB Bud Dupree
CB Mike Hilton
CB Cam Sutton
DT Tyson Alualu
DE Chris Wormley
LB Avery Williamson
OLB Cassius Marsh
LB Jayrone Elliott
S Sean Davis
S Jordan Dangerfield

Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

OLB Ola Adeniyi

Exclusive Righs Free Agents (ERFA)

ILB Robert Spillane
S Marcus Allen

Okay, with those names now out there, this exercise is based on what the Steelers’ depth would look like on the defensive side of the ball would look like if they lost all of their free agents. To make this simpler, and also how rare it is, I decided to say all RFA and ERFA will be retained one way or another. Therefore, the only players who will truly be lost are the UFAs.

Let’s look at the Steelers depth chart, by position (Note: I focused on players who had physical reps in the regular season or playoffs in 2020. Those who were never on the active roster are held off this list.):

Defensive Line

Cameron Heyward
Stephon Tuitt
Carlos Davis
Isaiah Buggs
Henry Mondeaux

OLB

T.J. Watt
Alex Highsmith
Ola Adeniyi

ILB

Devin Bush
Vince Williams
Robert Spillane
Ulysees Gilbert III

CB

Joe Haden
Steven Nelson
Justin Layne
James Pierre

Safety

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Terrell Edmunds
Antoine Brooks Jr.
Marcus Allen

There is a general consensus around the fan base the offense is the side of the ball which could be decimated by free agency this offseason. While they have their share of pending free agents, the defense certainly could be hit hard by free agency as well.

The loss of players like Hilton, Sutton, Alualu and Dupree leave huge holes in the depth of the Steelers’ defense. This obviously points to the team having to hit home runs with their picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, but it also points to them having to be players in the free agent market.

A lot of what they can, or cannot, do this offseason will hinge on the return of Ben Roethlisberger, as well as the pending salary cap number for the 2021 season. With those unknowns, it doesn’t leave fans with a warm, fuzzy feeling about the future of the team. But if you look at the above list, if they are able to keep just a few of those free agents, the outlook should be another dominant defense next season.

For instance, if the Steelers can keep Mike Hilton and/or Cam Sutton, the secondary will be just fine. If the Steelers could re-sign Alualu, their defensive front should be fine as well. Will the defense be addressed in the upcoming draft? Absolutely, but the Steelers defense could again be dominant with just some smart acquisitions/signings in the coming months.

If the Steelers were to lose all their defensive UFAs, would it be the end of this dominant group? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the team as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.