The Pittsburgh Steelers are set to have 19 players become unrestricted free agent on March 17. While the Steelers can still sign some of these players before this date, many of them will hit the open market.
Last season, the Steelers lost six players to free agency and it has them in line for possibly two compensatory draft picks in the upcoming 2021 NFL draft. But how did the 2020 season work out for these free agents? Did they see more, less, or about the same success outside of Pittsburgh?
Here is a brief synopsis of the season for the unrestricted free agents the Steelers lost during the 2020 offseason.
The biggest loss of the 2020 offseason, Javon Hargrave signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles which surprisingly has two void years in 2023 in 2024. Set to give the Steelers what is projected as a fourth-round compensatory draft pick, Hargrave saw similar stats in Philadelphia as he did in Pittsburgh. With 4.5 sacks in 2020, Hargrave did have more than his 4.0 sacks in 2019 with the Steelers but less than his 6.5 in 2018. Additionally, Hargrave only had 38 tackles which was less than he had the previous two years in Pittsburgh. His quarterback hits we’re about the same as he had eight in 2020 after notching six in 2019 and eight in 2018. When looking at player grades by Pro Football Focus, Hargrave’s ranking plummeted in 2020 as he finished 2019 in the top 10 in the league and was 75th in the NFL in 2020. In Week 5 in Pittsburgh, Hargrave was credited with 0.5 sacks, four tackles, and one quarterback hit playing against the Steelers.
If you’re looking for an example of the grass not being greener away from the Pittsburgh Steelers, B.J. Finney’s 2020 season sums it up pretty well. Signing with the Seattle Seahawks for a two-year, $8 million deal, Finney failed to win a starting position and never played an offensive snap for the Seahawks before being traded to the Cincinnati Bengals at the end of October as part of the Carlos Dunlap deal. Even in Cincinnati, Finney did not play a snap on offense and only two on special teams for the remainder of the season. Ironically, those two snaps came against the Steelers in Week 10. Still under contract with the Bengals, it’s unsure if Finney will even make it to training camp before being released as he carries no dead money for the 2021 season with the Bengals.
This one is really fun to talk about. After four years in Pittsburgh as their second-round draft pick in 2016, Davis had his ups and downs with the Steelers ending with only playing in one game in 2019 before going on the Reserve/Injured List. Signing a one-year, $4 million deal to go back to his hometown of Washington DC, Davis did not make the 53-man roster with the Washington Football Team. With $2 million of his salary guaranteed from Washington, Davis signed back with the Steelers for the league minimum for 2020. Used primarily for special-teams, Davis only played 14 defensive snaps for the Steelers in 2020. He is now set to become a free agent again on March 17.
The Steelers former seventh-round draft pick from 2016 and special-teams ace Tyler Matakevich found himself a fairly lucrative deal in 2020 with the Buffalo Bills. Signing a two-year, $7.15 million contract with Buffalo, Matakevich had comparable stats with his years with the Steelers. Matakevich did see a slight increase in defensive snaps with the Bills with 72 in 2020 having maxed out at 60 snaps for the Steelers in 2017. In Week 14 against the Steelers, Matakevich was credited with one tackle. Although Matakevich appears to be a very similar player with the Bills, the Steelers definitely got the cheaper end of the deal as Matakevich earned more from Buffalo in 2020 that he did his entire rookie contract in Pittsburgh.
Often times I have to be reminded that Vannett played for the Steelers in 2019 and was a free agent loss. Acquired via trade for the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round pick in 2020, Vannett played in 13 games where he had 13 receptions for 128 yards. Not part of the long term answer for the Steelers, Vannett had some critical words for the Steelers organization as he left. Signing a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos, Vannett appeared in 15 games and started 11 in 2020 where he had 14 receptions and a touchdown with 95 receiving yards. Even though Vannett was credited with so many starts, he actually played less offensive snaps in his 15 games in Denver (330) then he did his 13 games in Pittsburgh (391). For those keeping track, Vannett did not start in Week 2 in Pittsburgh for the Broncos and was targeted twice but had no receptions.
The Steelers first round-draft pick of the 2016 NFL draft, Artie Burns had a decent rookie season to build on. Unfortunately, things one in the wrong direction rather than growing into a quality cornerback. When the Steelers did not pick up Burns’ fifth year option, he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, Burns did not complete training camp before landing on the Reserve/Injured List with a season-ending ACL injury. Having signed only a one-year deal, Burns is set to become a free agent in March but will most likely only be looking to land a spot to get to training camp with any franchise that will have him after coming off of a major injury,
So those are the unrestricted free agents the Steelers lost in 2020. While there were other players lost from the 2019 season, they were released by the Steelers and were not UFAs. Although some former Steelers struggled with their new teams, others performed very similar than what they did in Pittsburgh. One thing for certain is that no player did significantly better away from the Steelers, at least in their first year after their departure.