Whether or not the Steelers get the help they need to make the playoffs, these last two games still carry a lot of weight for a ton of Steelers players. In total, the Steelers carry 21 players who will be free agents when the new league year begins. Plus, there are a number of players with contracts that make them almost certain to be cut. All in all, this team will look very different in 2022-2023, and the following players need to step up if they want another crack at wearing the black and gold.
(Note: A number of veterans have already proved themselves worthy of a contract with previous play, so you won't see guys like Joe Haden or JuJu Smith-Schuster on this list. AND I anticipate Zach Banner will be cut regardless of field time, and if Joe Schobert is unwilling to restructure his deal will also be released.)
The first player listed is the man who gave me inspiration to create this list, Ahkello Witherspoon. When the Steelers first traded for Witherspoon he was buried on the team’s healthy scratch pile, and it looked as though the Steelers wasted draft picks for a guy that was never going to play. But then some injuries and COVID-19 hit this team, and Witherspoon got to start. Not only did he get the game action, but Witherspoon has played well and even though the rest of the defensive backs have gotten healthy, Witherspoon has held onto starting duties. If Ahkello puts up another two solid games I have no doubt in my mind he will be back with the team next season.
Robert Spillane is about to receive another opportunity to play. With Devin Bush and Joe Schobert currently on the Reserve/COVID List, Spillane will pick up another start against the Cleveland Browns. I think Spillane is a quality No. 3 inside linebacker that is a stud on special teams. One or two solid games will cement him on this roster.
Edmunds is different than anyone else on this list, as he has been the undisputed starter all four years he's been on the team. If the strong safety can produce two really good games, or two really bad games, I think it could sway management’s view of him. If Edmunds just plays his basic style of game the coin could fall either way. I would not be shocked if he was, or was not, a Steeler in 2022
I only include Layne on this list because the guy just will not go away despite tumbling down the depth chart. The former third round pick has never looked like an NFL corner, and if he finds himself on the bench these last two games he certainly will be cut, right?
Sutton was supposed to take over as the starting outside corner opposite of Joe Haden this year, but Sutton has struggled and lost the starting role to Ahkello Witherspoon. Now playing more in the slot, I would not be shocked if Sutton’s new role got him cut in the offseason. Cutting Sutton after June 1st would save the team $4.5 Million, so if they need to keep making moves Sutton’s contract would be an easy one to move on from.
Last, but not least, is the Steelers kick returner turned offensive threat with injuries to the receiving position group. Ray-Ray McCloud has received tons of opportunity this year to be a regular in the offense. So far he has made some plays but looks very much like a returner acing like a receiver with the ball in his hands. Could he become an option? Probably not, but the Steelers still need a kick returner that can provide depth on this team. Perhaps McCloud falls back into this spot.
But what do you think? Which of these players are the most likely to be back in 2022-2023? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.