Now that free agency and the draft have past, it is time to take a look at how the Steelers can improve their outlook for 2021 and beyond. Extending T.J. Watt is going to happen at some point, whether it be this year or next year (Dave Schofield’s Stat Geek Podcast this past week is about Watt and when the Steelers should pay him. Be sure to check it out in the podcast section below), but because it is a somewhat obvious move, it is not going to be listed below.
The Steelers also do not have a ton of money, which is why this list is primarily made of moves that the Steelers can afford and could reasonably make. Waiting until roster cuts is likely the best thing to do when it comes to signing any major free agents, but based on who is currently available, we will look at several players that the Steelers could sign today at little to no risk. The other roster moves we will look at are potential trades. Kevin Colbert does not normally make splashy moves, but these are all moves that are not outside the realm of comprehension.
Let’s begin with a couple trades. The first one would bolster the defense, while the second would help the Steelers gain future draft capital. Here is the first one.
Trade for Chase Winovich
The Steelers’ lack of depth at edge rusher is concerning, and the Steelers cannot afford anyone too expensive. What would be better than adding depth at the position by bringing in a local product who everyone loved during the 2019 pre-draft process? Winovich has been solid for New England, especially his rookie season, but for some reason, Bill Belichick did not give him as many opportunities in 2020 despite their lack of depth at the position. Winovich’s snap count decreased last season, and after drafting Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings in the 2020 draft, signing Henry Anderson and Matt Judon in free agency, and drafting Ronnie Perkins in the 2021 draft, there is a good chance that there will be no room for him on the roster. Based on how his snaps decreased last year, it does not seem as if Belichick sees Winovich as a major part of his defense.
I despise giving up draft capital, but trading away a day three pick to grab Winovich would be worth it. The Steelers could also consider trading New England a player or two that would be a better fit in the schemes they run. The first two that come to mind are Jaylen Samuels and Justin Layne. The Steelers may have to add a little more than just them to the deal, but it does not seem as if Winovich would be terribly pricey. He is not the exact type of pass rusher that Keith Butler likes to use, but the energy, grit, and toughness that he brings would make him a perfect complement to what Alex Highsmith already brings opposite T.J. Watt.
Trade Mason Rudolph
Before you go straight to the comment section to blast me on this take, let me explain. I am not by any means a Mason Rudolph hater. I believe he should be considered the favorite to win the backup quarterback job. However, if D’Wayne Haskins can prove to be a reliable backup to Ben Roethlisberger, we know that Josh Dobbs brings a ton of value as a third-string quarterback simply because of his high IQ, maturity, and athleticism. If Haskins and Dobbs prove to be reliable depth this preseason, why not see what other teams would offer for Mason Rudolph?
When discussing the Steelers backup quarterback competition on the Pat McAfee Show, NFL insider Peter Schrager claimed that there are a lot of people in the NFL who are high on Mason Rudolph.
....I know a lot of people in the NFL think Mason Rudolph can be a starting quarterback someday. He looked good week 17 against the Brownies. He played well in that game. He was slinging it.
If the NFC East is up for grabs, and if either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Daniel Jones is struggling or injured, maybe we see Washington or New York send a tempting offer for Mason’s services. Rudolph was a player Dave Gettleman showed interest in during the 2018 pre-draft process. The Saints are another team that showed a lot of interest in Rudolph, and many people thought Sean Peyton’s offense would have been a perfect landing spot for Rudolph late in the first round. Ultimately, the Saints chose to trade up for Marcus Davenport instead, but if the Saints feel their roster is good enough to make a run in the postseason and their quarterback play is subpar, perhaps the Saints come back to a player they supposedly had interest in a few years back. The demand for quarterbacks is always at a premium, which is why it would not shock me at all if one of the teams that are supposedly high on Rudolph are willing to part with a day two pick. If the Steelers could regain the draft capital they used to draft Rudolph, this move needs to be considered, especially if the Steelers are confident in Haskins and Dobbs.
Sign Chris Orr
I have mentioned Orr’s name on multiple occasions over the past few years, as he is one of the highly productive college gems that fell through the cracks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Orr remains unphased no matter the circumstance. He flashes the athleticism to match up against running backs and tight ends in coverage while displaying tremendous awareness and good gap discipline as a run defender. With Devin Bush, Vince Williams, Buddy Johnson, and Robert Spillane, the Steelers are not necessarily in need of inside linebacker help. However, the Steelers have kept five inside linebackers before, and Ulysses Gilbert cannot seem to avoid the injury bug.
Orr’s versatility and ability to blitz would also allow the Steelers to potentially transform him into an undersized outside linebacker, a spot where the Steelers are lacking in terms of depth. It obviously takes more to be an edge rusher than being a good blitzer, but he was used as an edge rusher on occasion at Wisconsin and is capable of doing so at the NFL level as well. Despite his size, he has proven that he can hold his own as a run defender, and that is something Quincy Roche cannot do at this point. This signing would cost hardly anything, and the potential rewards on both defense and special teams would make it a worthwhile signing. You can check out my breakdown on Orr here.
Sign Jesse James
I know that many of you are thinking, “We just drafted a tight end, and we still have Eric Ebron. Why do we need Jesse James?” While I can understand that logic, I somewhat disagree. With Matt Canada as offensive coordinator, the Steelers are expected to run a lot more 12 personnel, which means that two tight ends are going to be on the field more often. Although Kevin Rader is a solid blocker, he brings almost nothing in terms of athleticism. I would like to see Dax Raymond make the roster, but he is still unproven. The only other tight end with a legitimate chance of making the roster is Zach Gentry, and, well, let’s just say that he was probably not meant to be a football player. When you are slow, you cannot block, and you cannot catch, it is difficult to survive at the tight end position.
James was one of many players who the Lions overpaid for during the Bob Quinn era, but bringing James back on a veteran minimum contract would make sense for both parties. The Steelers cannot afford to pay anyone much more than veteran minimum at the moment, but after his rough stint in Detorit, that is probably what James would be offered by any other team anyway. Not many teams have the money to pay him anything more. We know that James is not the greatest athlete in the world, but he was a consistent presence both as a blocker and as a pass catcher. He was a solid number two tight end the first time he was here, so why couldn’t he be a reliable number three now? Adding him to the tight end room would not only give Ben Roethlisberger another red zone weapon, but it would also provide insurance in case either Eric Ebron or Pat Freiermuth get injured.
Sign Nickell Robey-Coleman
Remembered by most as the corner who should have been called for pass interference against the Saints in the playoffs a couple years ago, Robey-Coleman has been a consistent nickel corner throughout his career. During the 2019 regular season, Robey-Coleman was pegged by Pro Football Focus as a top 20 cover corner in the NFL, only allowing an 80.1 completion percentage and .63 yards per slot coverage snap. He has 6 career interceptions, 41 passes defended, 6 forced fumbles, and 5 career sacks.
Robey-Coleman is not the blitzer that Mike Hilton is, but he is better than Hilton in coverage. James Pierre, Shakur Brown, and Lamont Wade will all have a shot to win the job at nickel corner, but adding an experienced veteran like Robey-Coleman would allow Pierre to be the primary backup on the outside and would allow Brown and Wade to not be forced into the lineup as rookies. Robey-Coleman signed a one-year, $1,350,000 deal with the Eagles last season, and that is about what I would expect him to cost now. Unless you are a truly elite nickel corner, you are not going to get paid big money, especially after the salary cap just decreased. That said, I believe that Robey-Coleman is worth a signing of greater magnitude than that based on his recent perfermance. Getting him for potentially less than $1.5 million is an excellent deal.
Trade Justin Layne
I was a huge fan of Justin Layne in the 2019 NFL Draft, and I still believe that he has starter potential, but it is clear that he is never going to be a fit in Pittsburgh’s zone-heavy defense. We knew that he was primarily a press man corner coming out of college and that he would struggle in zone. That is still the case with Layne, who has shown a couple flashes but looks like a deer in headlights whenever he is in zone coverage. After his recent off-field issues, it seems as if his time in Pittsburgh is nearing an end.
There are, however, teams that would value Layne more than the Steelers. New England, a team that plays a lot of man coverage, is the first team that comes to mind. Stefon Gillmore is on the last year of his deal, and there is still a chance that he will be traded himself. There is no way the Steelers would trade Layne inside the division to Baltimore, but teams like the Bears or Saints, who play a decent amount of zone but have had as much success as anyone when they line up in man, make a lot of sense. Both teams could use an extra body at the cornerback position, and the Steelers could use an extra day three pick after trading away their 5th rounder for Avery Williamson and their 4th rounder to move up for Isaiahh Loudermilk.
Other roster moves the Steelers should consider:
Sign WR Stephen Guidry
Sign EDGE Shilique Calhoun
Trade Chris Wormley
Trade Benny Snell
Which roster moves do you think the Steelers should make? Do you like any of the roster moves recommended above? Be sure to share your thoughts on this in the comment section below!