The new NFL league year officially begins on March 17th, but the legal tampering period begins Monday, March 15th. This means the news will be crazy heading into this week as teams attempt to piece together a roster with the salary cap dipping down to $182.5 million dollars.
For teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who spend to the cap nearly every season, making moves will be tough, and so will keeping their own free agent players in-house. With the league year slated to begin this week, ESPN’s team of insiders put together news and notes surrounding some of the biggest free agent names about to hit the open market. No doubt there were plenty of Steelers listed in the article.
Below are some of the news and notes to digest before the Free Agent feeding frenzy begins.
One of the biggest free agent names Steelers fans have been keeping an eye on is Mike Hilton. The versatile, and dynamic, slot cornerback is going to be a free agent for the first time in his career, outside of when he was bouncing around teams in his first year in the league, and he looks to cash in on the opportunity.
The early feedback indicates that Steelers corner Mike Hilton has positioned himself at or near the top of the slot or nickel corner market. His ability to cover and blitz (9.5 sacks since 2017) makes him a seamless fit for a defense that plays heavy zone and brings pressure (think Bears, Packers, Chargers, Falcons or Eagles).
Hilton isn’t the only news surrounding the Steelers, but wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster always seems to grab headlines. In the quotes below, it is more about what isn’t said about Smith-Schuster than what is said. In other words, Smith-Schuster, despite all the headlines saying he wants to stay, will be testing free agency and looking for a home outside of Pittsburgh.
We’re hearing most of the top receivers — Kenny Golladay, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Corey Davis — will test free agency, but a few have a chance to re-sign with their respective teams: Nelson Agholor with Las Vegas and Curtis Samuel with Carolina.
We expect the Jets to explore signing receiver help, and they’ve evaluated Will Fuller, Smith-Schuster and Kendrick Bourne, a favorite of new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur from their time in San Francisco together.
In what might have been the most shocking news in the article was pertaining to Alejandro Villanueva. Despite rumors of Villanueva deciding to retire, he has made it clear he still wants to play. It was assumed the Steelers couldn’t afford, or didn’t want to, bring him back, but this suggests the Steelers have been in talks with Villanueva on a potential return. Could Villanueva return on a hometown discount to play left tackle before he calls it a career?
Having secured a pay cut from Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are trying to piece together an offensive line in front of him as they inch toward getting under the salary cap. They signed B.J. Finney, who can potentially play center or guard as needed, and they’ve had conversations with left tackle Alejandro Villanueva about a return, though they haven’t figured out the contract numbers yet.
Matt Feiler and Zach Banner are also free agents who’d have to be replaced if the Steelers can’t bring them back. They are thought to have basically no chance to re-sign wide receiver Smith-Schuster or Dupree.
The news on Hilton and Smith-Schuster was expected, but the potential return of Villanueva certainly muddies the waters of free agency where we all once thought they were crystal clear. If Villanueva does return, what does this mean for Zach Banner, or Matt Feiler?
More questions than answers surround the Steelers heading into this huge week. With that said, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the new league year, NFL Free Agency and the 2021 NFL Draft.