The Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason was, well, different. But they weren’t alone, when the NFL salary cap dipped for the first time since it started, certain teams were in financial stress. The Steelers were one of those teams.
With a large number of pending free agents, any logical fan knew the Steelers wouldn’t be able to keep them all. When the Steelers lost Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton, Matt Feiler and eventually Alejandro Villaneuva, it wasn’t a shock. The Steelers were forced to make tough decisions heading into 2021. Decisions like signing Cam Sutton rather than Hilton, bringing back JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year deal and even finding a way to retain Tyson Alualu.
When you take a step back and look at all the Steelers had going against them, it was pretty amazing how they manipulated the salary cap, mainly using void years in several contracts, and were able to keep a competitive roster in place.
But that doesn’t mean everyone was feeling that way. In fact, ESPN had the Steelers as one of the worst offseasons among all NFL teams. This article was written by ESPN Staff Writer Bill Barnwell, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the 2021 Steelers.
Check it out:
30. Pittsburgh Steelers
What went right: The Steelers got a pleasant surprise when JuJu Smith-Schuster’s market failed to develop, leading the 24-year-old to return on a one-year, $8 million deal. It took voidable years to get Smith-Schuster back in the fold, which should tell you what a mess Pittsburgh’s cap looks like. Given their lack of options at the position, the Steelers should also probably be happy that Ben Roethlisberger decided to return for another season, taking a $5 million pay cut in the process. And after agreeing to sign with the Jaguars, Tyson Alualu changed his mind and returned to the Steelers on a two-year, $5.5 million pact.
What went wrong: They were forced to eat their financial vegetables and watch Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton leave in free agency. With the organization moving on from Steven Nelson, cornerback has gone from being one of the team’s biggest strengths to one of Pittsburgh’s thinnest positions. Justin Layne, a third-round pick in 2019, has played only 117 defensive snaps over his first two seasons, but he might be one of the team’s three top cornerbacks this season.
The offensive line is also a mess, with the Steelers losing Maurkice Pouncey to retirement and both Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva to free agency. They brought back B.J. Finney and used third- and fourth-round picks on linemen, but they project to be below average at as many as four positions. Their decision to try to revitalize the running game by using a first-round pick on Alabama star Najee Harris also seemed curious given what we know about the position.
What they could have done differently: Used their first-round pick on a lineman while signing one of the many running backs still available in free agency. Christian Darrisaw came off the board one pick before the Steelers at No. 23, but I have to think that they would have been better off with Darrisaw and a back such as Todd Gurley than they are with Harris and their current line situation.
What’s left to do: Start working on extensions for T.J. Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick. Plenty of teams would love to have this problem, but the Steelers will have to find a way to extend their two young stars on defense over the next two years while struggling with cap constraints. Roethlisberger could retire after the 2021 season, but the franchise will still be on the hook for nearly $16 million in dead money between their longtime quarterback and Smith-Schuster in 2022.
After reading that, how do you feel about the Steelers this upcoming season? Do you think this “poor offseason” won’t be as bad as many think? Were the moves the team made good enough to still be contenders in the AFC?
Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.