NFL free agency is right around the corner, and the 2022 free agent class is a strong one. Considering that the Steelers will have more money than normal to work with in free agency, there are likely to be more roster moves than normal this March. With excitement raging among the fan base, it is time to take a closer look at which free agents the Steelers should consider signing.
Between now and March, I will be breaking down each position’s outlook in free agency, listing the top players at each position and determining which ones make the most sense for the Steelers. Today, we will get things rolling with the quarterbacks and running backs.
As it currently stands, the Steelers have an estimated $34,018,712 to spend, and that number will likely grow. Potential cut candidates Joe Schobert, Zach Banner, Chris Wormley, Joe Haeg, and Derek Watt could free up as much as a combined $20,584,352 in the event that each player was cut. It is true that this team has plenty of needs, but it is encouraging to know that several of these needs can be filled with quality free agent signings, thanks to the unusually large amount of cap space.
Let’s begin with everyone’s favorite topic of conversation: the quarterbacks.
Here are the top free agents at the quarterback position based off 2021 Average Annual Value, per Spotrac.
Ben Roethlisberger (Officially retired)
Ryan Fitzpatrick (Age: 39)
Andy Dalton (Age: 34)
Cam Newton (Age: 32)
Tyrod Taylor (Age: 32)
Jameis Winston (Age: 28)
Jacoby Brissett (Age: 29)
Teddy Bridgewater (Age: 29)
Marcus Mariota (Age: 28)
Mitch Trubisky (Age: 27)
The Steelers’ current quarterback depth chart is as follows:
Ben Roethlisberger (Officially retired)
Mason Rudolph (under contract through 2022)
Dwayne Haskins (Expected to be offered RFA tender)
Joshua Dobbs (UFA)
Based upon the current depth chart, the Steelers could certainly benefit from bringing in somebody new, but whether the Steelers sign a free agent or not will likely come down to one simple thing: money.
Let’s take a look at who I believe are the top three free agent quarterbacks for the Steelers’ current situation.
For a quarterback that most consider to be mediocre, people may scoff and say that this is an unnecessary signing. However, the thought of Mitch Trubisky in Matt Canada’s offense is interesting, because Trubisky’s mobility as well as his ability to play under center would be an ideal fit in a Canada offense. He signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the Bills last offseason, but the market is likely to be better for the former Bears quarterback this year. Could the Steelers sign him for $5-7 million? It’s possible, but if his price tag goes up much more than that, it may be better for the Steelers to just bring back Josh Dobbs as depth and ride with Mason Rudolph as the starter in 2022.
If the Steelers happened to target a guy like Malik Willis in the NFL Draft, Tyrod Taylor would be an interesting mentor to bring in. He has the mobility that Steelers fans have been longing for at the quarterback position, and he has provided stable play at every place he has been given the opportunity to start. Taylor is certainly battle-tested. He suffered a punctured lung with the Chargers in 2020, and he suffered a serious hamstring injury that cost him part of his 2021 season with the Texans. This seems to be more of an unlikely signing than several other quarterbacks available, but it is an idea the Steelers should entertain if they decide to change their quarterback prototype from the old-school pocket passer to the modern-day dual-threat quarterback.
How about doing the easiest thing possible? Just bring back a guy who is incredibly smart, knows the ropes, and has the mobility to play in special packages that Matt Canada may want to deploy. Dobbs is like a coach on the sideline, and the contributions he makes in that regard cannot be ignored. The Steelers could bring him back for veteran minimum, and he would provide the Steelers with a strong mental presence in the quarterback room.
Other potential signings: Jacoby Brissett, Marcus Mariota
My first choice would definitely be Mitch Trubisky. He was never given a fair shot in Chicago, and we saw what he was capable of back in 2018. If the Steelers can improve the offensive line this offseason, Trubisky would be in a prime position to succeed. If he becomes too expensive and not worth the cap space he would take up, I would be open to just bringing back Dobbs as a backup and riding with Mason Rudolph in 2021. The results may not be pretty, but it would allow the Steelers to dedicate all their cap space to fix other positions of need.
Here are the top free agents at the running back position based off 2021 Average Annual Value, per Spotrac.
Melvin Gordon (Age: 28)
David Johnson (Age: 30)
Jalen Richard (Age: 28)
Leonard Fournette (Age: 27)
Phillip Lindsay (Age: 27)
Cordarrelle Patterson (Age: 30)
Raheem Mostert (Age: 29)
Rashaad Penny (Age: 25)
James White (Age: 29)
Sony Michel (Age: 26)
The Steelers’ current running back depth chart is as follows:
Najee Harris (under contract through at least 2024)
Benny Snell, Jr. (under contract through 2022)
Anthony McFarland, Jr. (under contract through 2023)
Kalen Ballage (UFA)
Trey Edmunds (under contract through 2022)
I do not foresee the Steelers making any major moves at this position. After spending a first-round pick on Najee Harris last spring, the Steelers are set at the top. I am still a believer in Anthony McFarland as an electric number two running back, and the coaching staff seems to like Benny Snell. There are several good options in free agency that would improve the depth, but it is certainly not a priority.
Let’s take a look at who I believe are the top three free agent running backs for the Steelers’ current situation.
I was a big fan of Jackson when he came out of college. He is not the biggest back, but his blend of speed and patience makes him an excellent change of pace option. He runs with a nice, low pad level, and he has some sneaky power as well. In 2021, Jackson averaged 5.4 yards per carry on 68 carries while recording an impressive 88% catch rate (receptions/targets). He could be a nice complement to Najee Harris if the Steelers are not confident in Anthony McFarland’s health.
Freeman is a better version of Benny Snell. He is a bruiser who can earn the tough yard or two, and he is more explosive than Snell overall. He also displays a high level of awareness as a pass blocker. His catch percentage throughout his career is just under 80%, but his receiving skills are nothing to write home about. He will catch the accurately thrown balls, but he is not usually going to make much happen after the catch. Nonetheless, he would be an upgrade over Benny Snell for a similar price.
Ballage did not get many opportunities during the regular season, but he proved his raw athleticism in the preseason, displaying good short-area burst, power, and vision. There are no eye-popping stats that I can give you, but if he is given another year in Matt Canada’s system, he could easily surpass Benny Snell on the depth chart. Ballage is simply capable of more athletically. Hopefully the coaching staff will give him more opportunities to prove himself down the line.
Other potential signings: Giovani Bernard, Marlon Mack
Ideally, I would sign Justin Jackson and re-sign Kalen Ballage while cutting Benny Snell and Trey Edmunds, as it would improve the overall athleticism of the group from top to bottom. However, these would just be minor moves, and in the grand scheme of things, it is not likely to change the outcome of the Steelers’ 2022 season.
Which quarterback or running back would you like to see the Steelers sign? Do you think bringing in a veteran quarterback is worth the cap space they would have to sacrifice to sign one? Is the Steelers’ running back room set, or would you like to see them sign somebody else? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers!